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Stress in complex words

The stress patterns of complex words (compounds, affixed words) differ from those of simplex words. That is, many of the Generalizations on Stress Placement apply to individual constituents of words (e.g. the stem), but not to the complex word as a whole. There are specific generalizations concerning the location of stress in complex words. For instance, some affixes do not affect the stress pattern of their base word, whereas others do.

In compounds consisting of two constituents there is variation as to stress placement in that either the first or the second constituent can receive stress, that is, compounds can have a 'strong-weak' or a 'weak-strong' pattern. The literature often assumes the strong-weak payttern to be the unmarked one, a view strongly supported by nominal and verbal compounds. Prepositional compounds, on the other hand, show more variation, whereas adjectival compounds regularly exhibit a weak-strong pattern (at least in predicative position). More details on the stress patterns in compounds of this type can be found in Stress in compounds with two constituents. Variation in stress assignment can be observed in compounds of higher complexity, where one of the two constituents is itself complex.

Complex words can be subject to stress shifts, which come in two kinds. The first type of stress shift is sensitive to the syntactic position of the relevant complex word: adjectival compounds can exhibit a weak-strong pattern in predicative position and a strong-weak pattern in attributive position. For some adjectival compounds, this difference is categorical, in which case we speak of stress retraction, whereas it seems to be optional for others, for which case the term iambic reversal is used.

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There is not much literature about Frisian stress, so the topics about stress in complex words are mainly based on those about stress in Dutch complex words.

[+]Compound stress vs primary word stress: fundamental differences

The stress pattern of compounds often differs from that of simplex words. For instance, in the large majority of cases, nominal compounds have the stress pattern strong-weak, that is, the first constituent with a full vowel receives (primary) stress. This is different for simplex words, where primary stress is on one of the last three syllables (in accordance with the Three-Syllable Window).

Consider for example the difference between the quadrisyllabic simplex word makaroany macaroni and the quadrisyllabic nominal compound mini-pizza mini-pizza. Both words have two stresses, one on the first and one on the third syllable. As shown in the table below, the simplex word makaroany has secondary stress on the first syllable and primary stress on the third syllable, which is in line with the generalizations on stress placement in monosyllabic words. In mini-pizza, on the other hand, the stress on the first syllable is more prominent than that on the third one; the word displays compound stress, which, at least in nouns, regularly falls on the first constituent of a compound, yielding a strong-weak pattern.

Table 1
Word stress: primary stress on the penultimate makaroany [ˌmak.kar.'roə.ni] macaroni
Compound stress (basic pattern): compound stress on first constituent mini-pizza [ˈmi.ni.ˌpi.dza] mini-pizza
If mini-pizza were a simplex word, its stress patterns would violate the generalizations for the location of primary stress. However, it represents a systematic and productive pattern, which cannot thus be regarded as exceptional. The difference between compounds and monomorphemic words can be expressed at the level of the prosodic word: morphologically and syntactically a compound behaves as one unit, but prosodically as (two or more) independent units. In other words, a compound consists of at least two prosodic words.

The table above exemplifies the difference in behaviour between compounds and simplex words with respect to the Three-Syllable Window. This generalization requires main stress to be realized on one of the last three syllables of a prosodic word. The monomorphemic word makaroany, therefore, cannot have primary stress on the first syllable, as this is the fourth syllable from the right. Mini-pizza, on the other hand, has primary stress on exactly this syllable, but since this word consists of two independent prosodic words, mini and pizza, both constituents have regular penultimate stress and the Three-Syllable Window is not violated.