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Alternating stress principle

As to rhythm in Dutch, Booij (1995) states the Optimal Grid Principle, termed here the Alternating Stress Principle. It states that there should be an alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables within a prosodic word.

Alternating Stress Principle
A prosodic word has an alternating pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.
The Alternating Stress Principle prohibits the occurrence of two adjacent stressed or unstressed syllables, forming a Stress Clash and a Lapse, respectively.


Schwa cannot receive stress. If, therefore, of a threesyllabic word one syllable is headed by schwa, only the stress patterns in (1) below are in conformity with the Alternating Stress Principle:

Example 1

a.  schwa syllable - stressed syllable - schwa syllable
b.  stressed syllable - schwa syllable - secondarily stressed syllable
c.  secondarily stressed syllable - schwa syllable - stressed syllable

Violations of the Alternating Stress Principle occur in words with more than three syllables. Let us consider words of four or five syllables as examples. If in quadrisyllabic words stress is on the ultimate and in pentasyllabic words on the penultimate, secondary stress is usually on the first syllable (see Secondary stress in quadrisyllabic words and Secondary stress in pentasyllabic words). Examples of these stress patterns are given in the table below:

Table 1
Number of syllables PPAPU PAPU APU PU U
4 ˌσ σ σ ˈσ fonology [ˌfo:.no:.lo:.ˈɡi] phonology

ekonomy [ˌe:.ko:.no:.ˈmi] economy

* 4 σ ˌσ σ ˈσ fonology [*fo:.ˌno:.lo:.ˈɡi] phonology

ekonomy [*e:.ˌko:.no:.ˈmi] economy

5 ˌσ σ σ ˈσ σ organisaasje [ˌɔr.ɡan.ni.'sa:s.jə] organisation

abrakadabra [ˌa:.brak.kad.'da:.bra] abracadabra

* 5 σ ˌσ σ ˈσ σ organisaasje [*ɔr.ˌɡan.ni.ˈsa:s.jə] organisation

abrakadabra [*a:.ˌbrak.kad.ˈda:.bra] abracadabra

If the Alternating Stress Principle were obeyed, the second syllable of quadrisyllabic words should receive secondary stress, which it does not, for it is unstressed. This means that both fonology [ˌfo:.no:.lo:.ˈɡi] and ekonomy [ˌe:.ko:.no:.ˈmi] violate the Alternating Stress Principle. Many words, however, appear not to obey this principle. The stress pattern in the quadrisyllabic cases above is attributed to the so-called Hammock Principle, which expresses the requirement that the edges of prosodic words be stressed.

Secondary stress appears to be immune to the requirements of the Three Syllable Window, a principle according to which stress should fall on one of the last three syllables of a word. This generalization, therefore, only seems to hold for determining the location of primary word stress.

  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press