LINGUIST List 7.135

Sat Jan 27 1996

Disc: Emphasis

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1. Dan I. Slobin, Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
  2. Bruce Nevin, Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
  3. John E. Koontz, Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
  4. Rebecca Larche Moreton, Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Message 1: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 11:06:56 PST
From: Dan I. Slobin <slobincogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
When the PBS News Hour was still McNeill/Lehrer, I noticed that
Lehrer emphasized copulas and auxiliaries whereas McNeill did not.
This occurred (and still does) in the introduction of discussions
following the news summary ("Our first topic IS the crisis in X";
"Now we DO go on to a newsmaker interview with X"). McNeill happened
to be giving a reading at Black Oak Books in Berkeley a couple of
years ago, and I asked him about this practice. He said he had,
indeed, noticed it in Lehrer's speech, and didn't know why Jim
did it, but that he considered it inappropriate for himself. As I
recall, he said it was a kind of general tendency in journalese
that he deplored.

Dan Slobin (slobincogsci)
Psychology, University of California, Berkeley
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Message 2: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 15:40:52 EST
From: Bruce Nevin <>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
I have noticed myself using this sort of intonation. I don't now
recall the details of specific situations. The generic occasion
involves labelling myself, or someone, or a thing, as a member of some
one category vs. other candidate possibilities, or as being in one of
a series or set of predefined states. Making up a scenario: The sign
says "pick up your packet here if you have registered in advance." I
step to the position under that sign. "Do you have my packet?" The
person there looks up inquiringly. "I *have* registered in advance."

This seems to me directly related to contrastive stress: "I *am* eating my
lima beans, mommie!" (Or in the old anecdote about children's repartee,
"Behave!" "I *am* being have!" :-)

In the airline world, the plane moves from one predefined state to
another, and passenger status shifts from "seat belts on" to "seat
belts off" and so on. I take this to be the primary basis of this

Other instances may occur. Things like "items DO have a tendency to
shift during flight" may be ordinary emphasis. "Mmm! I DO like
butterscotch!" Contributors to Linguist have cited things like "we
*have* enjoyed having you on board today, and hope that you *will*
choose (name of airline) the next time you fly." These I haven't
noticed (just completed another RT Boston-San Francisco last week),
but that may just be my not attending.

A legitimate sublanguage or occupational dialect characteristic may have
developed and spread from airline attendants (or an earlier source) to
other shepherders-around of the public. But the basis in common usage
doesn't seem to me mysterious or unreasonable.

 Bruce Nevin
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Message 3: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 13:52:20 MST
From: John E. Koontz <>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
Anton Sherwood ( wrote:

>For as long _as_ I can remember (I didn't watch much tv _before_
>about twenty years ago), news-readers _on_ television have had the
>_peculiar_ habit of emphasizing prepositions and other _relatively_
>insignificant words.

I imagine this a side effect of trying to read naturally from
teleprompters, like the exagerated body motions - twiches, in fact -
that many talking heads seem to have. They're a foredoomed attempt to
leave you with the impression that they aren't reading from a

Further in regard to the subject of bad emphasis, I've noticed that
many American writers, in indicating emphasis with capitalization,
boldface or italics, tend to emphasize the word after THE word that I
as a speaker of American English would expect to be emphasized (to
give an example). In this case I've always supposed that this was an
orthographical error, and did not reflect the writer's actual spoken

John E. Koontz
NIST:CAML:DCISD 888.02 Boulder, CO
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Message 4: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 19:13:58 CST
From: Rebecca Larche Moreton <>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
In the late 50's or early 60's, I heard a recorded comedy routine
in which a sports announcer quoted a football coach carefully
instructing his players on proper decorum on the field if a game
was being televised. Principally, the coach reminded his players
that the camera sees all and that they were to keep their hands
away from "certain parts OF your body." The placement of the
emphasis turned the advice into a formula or incantation, with an
implication also that the coach didn't really expect that his
advice would be followed. As in the airport and crew-member
announcements, the emphasis marks the admonitory, routine, and
probably futile nature of the utterances it occurs in. The coach's
content-empty 'of' worked as well as a 'do' from a deconstructed

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