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Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft

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Volume 27, Issue 2 (Nov 2008)


Emphatic stress shift in German

Thomas Berg
  • Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Hamburg
Published Online: 2008-11-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ZFSW.2008.009


This paper presents an analysis of a sample of intentional deviations from the typical stress pattern of German words. These deviations are described as stress shifts in which the main stress is in a different position to the norm. This process is optional, mainly found in media speech and used for emphatic purposes. All stress shifts involve an interchange of primary and secondary stress, thereby demonstrating their sensitivity to a prosodic-similarity constraint. Stress retractions by far outnumber stress advancements, which can be jointly explained by a probabilistic association of the main stress and the word-initial position in language structure and an anticipatory bias in the language production system. Stress shifts show a strong overrepresentation of adjectives because this word class codes evaluative aspects most naturally and it is evaluations that speakers prefer to emphasize. From a social-psychological perspective, stress shifts are claimed to be a means by which speakers may boast their knowledge and, from a rhetorical perspective, a strategy of making the event being talked about more spectacular. Stress shifts are minority patterns in the sense that the constraints on them are so strong that only relatively few lexical items are eligible. This raises the issue of what speakers do with those items which they wish to emphasize but which do not lend themselves readily to stress shifting. Whether they turn to alternative means of expression or whether they leave their intentions unexpressed remains to be determined.

Keywords:: phonology; lexical stress; German; emphasis; stress retraction; stress advancement

About the article

Received: 2007-05-09

Revised: 2008-06-30

Published Online: 2008-11-20

Published in Print: 2008-11-01

Citation Information: Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, ISSN (Online) 1613-3706, ISSN (Print) 0721-9067, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ZFSW.2008.009. Export Citation

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