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Stress in nominal compounds with an embedded nominal compound

Stress placement in nominal compounds of which the second constituent is itself a compound shows a good deal of variation. There is some evidence indicating that the internal complexity of the constituents may influence the stress placement.


In a nominal compound of the structure [[A][B]], stress is on the left-hand constituent, viz. [A], in accordance with the Compound Stress Rule (see Stress in compounds with two constituents). Stress may be on the right-hand constituent, viz. [B], provided that the latter is a compound itself; see Visch (1989) and Booij (1995) for Dutch, which Frisian is likely to join in this respect. Since there are many counterexamples, the following generalization is far from being an absolute constraint:

complex nominal Compound stress rule
If in a nominal compound [[A][B]], [B] is itself a compound and [A] is not, stress is on the first constituent of [B].
So, while stress in a simplex compound [[A][B]] is realized on [A], in a complex compound [[[A][[B1][B2]]], it is realized on [B1]. This gives rise to stress alternations like those in (1):

Example 1

a. wrâldrekôr [[wrâld][rekôr]] ['vrɔ:t.rə.ˌkɔ:r] world record
      wrâldoererekôr [[wrâld][[oere][rekôr]]] [vrɔ:t.'uə.rə.rə.ˌkɔ:r] one-hour run world record
b. skoalleplan [[skoalle][plan]] /'skwal.lə.ˌplɔn/ school plan
      skoallewurkplan [[skoalle][[wurk][plan]]] /ˌskwal.lə.'vørk.plɔn/ school curriculum

In the examples in (1), stress is realized on the second constituent of the compound if this is itself a compound; if both constituents are simplex, stress is realized on the left-hand constituent.

A compound as second constituent, however, does not always attract stress. Visch (1989:212) notes for Dutch; most recent compounds have, independent of the complexity of their second members, main stress on their first member. Examples of this pattern in Frisian are given in (2):

Example 2

sealfuotbal [[seal][[fuot][bal]]] ['sɪəl.fwod.ˌbɔl] indoor football
bernebedtiid [[berne][[bed][tiid]]] ['bɛn.nə.ˌbɛt.ti:t] children's bedtime

So, although the right-hand constituents in (2) ‒ fuotbal football and bedtiid bedtime ‒ are compounds, stress is on the left-hand, simplex constituent. The Compound Stress Rule, therefore, seems to be preferred to the Complex Nominal Compound Stress Rule here. This is counter to expectation. Normally, if there are two constraints, a specific and a general one, the former takes effect, to the exclusion of the latter. Whether it will become a rule that in a compound consisting of nouns the first noun receives primary stress is for the future to show.

  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Visch, Ellis1989The rhythm rule in English and DutchUtrecht UniversityThesis
  • Visch, Ellis1989The rhythm rule in English and DutchUtrecht UniversityThesis