Positional prominence vs. word accent: Is there a difference?


One of the major unresolved issues in the study of word-accentual systems is determining what exactly counts as accent, a problem which is further complicated in languages with tone or so-called pitch-accent. In this chapter I address three African cases where the positional prominence effects are clearly word level, reasonably subject to a metrical (accentual) interpretation, but do not consistently coincide. In Ibibio, a Cross-River language spoken in Nigeria, greater consonant and vowel contrasts suggests that the initial stem syllable is the accented head of a trochaic foot, whose required shape varies, however, by construction. In Punu, a Bantu language spoken in Gabon, tone suggests that the word-penultimate syllable is accented, while vowel length suggests that both stem-initial and word-penultimate syllables are accented. In Lulamogi, a small, understudied Bantu language spoken in Uganda, vowel length suggests that all stem (vs. prefix) and word-penultimate syllables are accented, while tone suggests it is the penult. While some or all of these instances of positional prominence resemble what is found in stress-accent systems, I conclude that we should focus more on the specific properties themselves and less on what we call them.

Larry M. Hyman
Publication date: 
January 1, 2019
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Hyman, L. M. (2019). Positional prominence vs. word accent: Is there a difference? In R. Goedemans, J. Heinz & H. van der Hulst (eds.), The study of word stress and accent: theories, methods and data, pp.60-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.