We have so far described the sounds of English, we tried to list some of their main articulatory features, we even postulated the existence of classes of sounds that we called phonemes and we discussed them in functional terms emphasizing their contrastive value. But even when we talked about classes of sounds (phonemes) we considered them as actually defining unique phonological units in spite of the phonetic variations displayed by their respective members which we chose to ignore. We can say then that we analyzed individual, separate segments, phonological units in isolation. The study of such segments outside of a larger phonological context is the domain of segmental phonology. Many changes undergone by sounds, many contrasts in language, many phonological processes, actually take place or can be noticed at a higher level, a level that will involve sequences or strings of sounds, or even of words and phrases. This will be the domain of suprasegmental phonology and part of the following chapters will be devoted to a brief analysis of such phenomena. Stress, rhythm, intonation are obviously such phonological realities that manifest themselves at a suprasegmental level. Stress and intonation contours can even have phonemic (contrastive) value since only difference in stress placement establishes the distinction between envoy (the noun) and envoy (the verb). The same word, phrase or sentence pronounced with different intonational contours could express surprise, satisfaction, matter-of-factness. The last chapter of the book will discuss such cases in further detail.
Phonemic particles that we have so far been considering such as vowels, consonants, diphthongs, etc. are called segmental phonemes. They contribute to the meaning of a speech segment. Apart from this class of segmental phonemes, there is another class of particles that’ play equally important role. These are supra-segmental phonemes.
Features of stress, pitch, intonation and juncture comprise this class, and are said to be ‘overlaid’ on the segmental units. It is difficult to imagine human communication without these features. They invariably accompany our speech and lend the additional dimension which is mote immediately and directly understood. These features convey the speaker’s identity, attitudes, emotional states and his/her evaluation of how he/she is being received. Often, in the totality of communicational situation, a listener doesnot pay so much attention to the wards as he does to the rise and fall of pitch, volume of voice, stress and pauses, and so on. He understands the meaning by simply responding to these extra-linguistic indices.
We will now look at these features or phonemes a little more closely.
Physiologically, stress means greater articulatory effort. By putting stress on particular segments we give it greater prominence. Various types of meaning are conveyed by distributing stress pattern over speech segments in a controlled manner.
Two types of stress can he established
1. Word stress (or accent)
2. Phrasal (or sentence stress)
In words made up of more than one syllable, some syllable stands out from others. In a word like fable it is the first syllable that receives ‘stress’ or more articulatory energy which results in its’ sounding louder and longer than the other syllable’ the second syllable here. The distribution of stress over the word fable can be shown in this manner – fa-ble.
In monosyllabic words – these words may contain more than one phoneme, but that doesnot matter-stress falls on the only syllable they contain:
l /ai/ (single phoneme word)
see /si:/ (two-phoneme word)
cat /kaet/ (three-phoneme word)
flame /fleim/ (four-phoneme word)
tract /traekt/ (five-phoneme word)
In words made of more than one syllable, the stress is distributed over the syllables; one of the syllables is pronounced with greater syllabic energy or prominence. In words like sector and enable, the first syllable is prominent in sector and the second syllable in enable.