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Stress at the sentence level

Prosody is hierarchically structured. Where one syllable is the prosodic head of the word domain, one word will be the prosodic head of the phrase or utterance it occurs in. Typically, when a word receives sentence stress, the marking of this stress will fall on the syllable within the word that carries the word stress. A syllable in a word with sentence stress has all the phonetic markers of a word stress plus some characteristics that mark it as a sentence stress. Which words in an utterance receive sentence stress and which ones do not depends on the syntax-prosody interface of the language.


In Dutch, like in other languages of the Germanic family, too, sentence stresses are assigned by default to specific words on the basis of the syntactic/prosodic structure of the utterance, but the default rules may be overridden by pragmatic considerations that delete or move sentence stresses so as to express the focus structure of the utterance. Typically, only the prosodic head of a prosodic constituent that is in focus, i.e., contributes new and contextually unpredictable information to the discourse, receives sentence stress, whereas sentence stresses are deleted (or moved away) from words and phrases that are out of focus, i.e., contain relatively unimportant and contextually given information. Thus, in (1a) there is a contrast between two phrases: het meisje the girl and de oude man the old man. By default, sentence stress in the latter phrase goes to the noun, which is the prosodic head of the NP. In (1b), however, the pragmatic contrast is between the adjectives jonge young and oude old. In this situation pragmatic rules delete the default sentence stress from the noun and reassign it to the adjective.

Example 1

a. Is Lesley [het MEISJE] of [de oude MAN]?
Is Lesley [the GIRL] or [the old MAN]?
b. Is Lesley de [JONGE] man of de [OUDE] man?
Is Lesley the [YOUNG] man or the [OLD] man?