LINGUIST List 7.143

Tue Jan 30 1996

Disc: Emphasis

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Torsten Leuschner", Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
  2. David Stampe, Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
  3. Richard Hudson, emphasis
  4. mary j bruesch, Re: 7.135, Disc: Emphasis
  5., Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
  6. SUE BLACKWELL, RE: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Message 1: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Sat, 27 Jan 1996 22:17:11 +0100
From: "Torsten Leuschner" <>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
There is an interesting parallel in German to the phenomenon mentioned by Anton
Sherwood, acccording to whom prepositions and other relatively insignificant 
words often receive unexpexted stress in news reports. According to 
my experience as 
a frequent viewer/listener to news bulletins and weather 
forecasts, prepositions are by far the most frequently 
emphasized items in this way in German. Examples like the 
following, although by no means equally frequent with all presenters, can be pi
cked up all the time on any radio station or TV news 
programme in Berlin:

Das Fahren *auf* Berlins Strassen ist weiterhin gefaehrlich, wir bringen Ihnen 
das Neueste *in* unseren Nachrichten *zur* vollen Stunde *auf* dieser Frequenz.

('Driving continues to be dangerous *on* the roads of Berlin, we'll bring you 
the latest *in* our news bulletins *on* the hour *on* this very frequency.' 
There is of course no question of driving being any easier *under* or *above* 
the roads of Berlin or whatever contrasting situation might be suggested by 
such a stress pattern, as Renate Eckardt already pointed out.)

I think this kind of pattern has become stereotyped as 
projecting a particularly dynamic image of the speaker, such as 
deemed appropriate to newsreporters nowadays. (Germany's 
semi-national electronic news media have been under strong 
pressure for years to adapt to the competitive style of the privately 
run channels newly brought in during the 1980's.) 

I have been wondering how such a speaker image may relate to the stress pattern
 but have not yet 
found an altogether plausible answer. What is the appeal to speakers in 
a focus to which there can be no contrast? Did this behaviour perhaps originate
 in an attempt to imply 
superior knowledge of other possible worlds, in contexts where this 
was still plausible? Is there any systematic research going on, possibly publis
somewhere, of this kind of phenomenon?

So far I have relied completely on spontaneous observation. Given how 
frequent this phenomenon now appears to be, especially in American 
English, an empirically 
founded study is definitely called for, perhaps comparing non-contrastive stres
s on English and 
German prepositions and auxiliaries with reference to some theory of pragmatics
 or other is definitely called-for. I had been thinking of cross-influence 
from English as a source for this pattern in German, since even BBC 
journalists occasionally use it in their broadcasts. Judging from recent 
contributions to this discussion, however, the phenomenon clearly is much 
more wide-spread than that.

Torsten Leuschner, 

Freie Universitaet Berlin (
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Message 2: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Sat, 27 Jan 1996 11:21:45 -1000
From: David Stampe <>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
Why is emphasis shifted in routine announcements? I conjecture that
by shifting emphasis from its normal position on salient information,
one can imply that the announcement contains nothing unexpected.

Normally, emphasis is on the dependents of phrases rather than their
less salient heads: on the main verb in an auxiliary phrase (have
LANDED), on the object or other dependent in a verb phrase (fasten
SEATBELTS, fasten SECURELY), on the object of a prepositional phrase
(in PARIS). To imply that there is no salient information in a phrase,
one can de-emphasize the normally salient element. In that case, the
relative emphasis ends up on the head of the phrase (We have landed IN
Paris), or, recursively, the head of its containing phrase (We have
LANDED in Paris, We HAVE landed in Paris). When everything is put in
the background, a dummy head may even be used to take the emphasis
(We DO ask you to remain seated until the plane has come to a stop).

[English has phrase-final accent, and in certain phases with head-final
word order, the head is normally accented (carry-on LUGGAGE). In such
phrases, reversing the normal emphasis leaves relative emphasis on the
modifier (CARRY-ON luggage may be stored in the OVERHEAD compartment).]

There are other common devices for backgrounding routine information,
most notably ellipsis. But in announcements of this sort, the point is
to convey the information, so salient elements, however routine, can't
simply be left out. But they CAN be de-emphasized.

If we hope to learn the role of emphasis, such routine announcements
probably deserve closer attention than they are intended to get.

David Stampe
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Message 3: emphasis

Date: Sun, 28 Jan 1996 16:09:41 CST
From: Richard Hudson <>
Subject: emphasis
Re examples like the following, quoted in the recent discussion (by Dan
Slobin, as it happens, but they're typical).

(1) Our first topic IS the crisis in X.
(2) Now we DO go on to a newsmaker interview with X.

I don't see how these can be side-effects of reading from a script, or
indeed anything to do with the reader's intentions, simply because the extra
DO in (2) must be part of the script itself.

Another possible explanation involves Brown and Levinson's ideas about
politeness: you show more politeness by exerting extra effort. E.g. your
bank manager doesn't just write (3), but extends it to (4).

(3) Your account is overdrawn.
(4) I am writing to inform you that your account is overdrawn.

According to this theory, the point of the extra emphatic stress is simply
that it is extra, something extra that the speaker is doing `for' you (the
hearer) beyond the requirements of mere communication. The situation makes
it obvious that it doesn't have to be taken literally (as contrasting with
something else). So once the pattern of (1) is established, as a kind of
smile that comes with a service announcement, it becomes in some sense
grammaticalised as emphasis on certain kinds of words - auxiliary verbs,
prepositions and maybe a few others. It wouldn't work if you simply put the
emphasis on a full verb as in (5).

(5) Now we GO on to a newsmaker interview with X.

Hence the need for the dummy DO in (2).

If this theory is right, English is simply adopting a grammaticised
politeness structure in its syntax like those of all those other languages
like Japanese.
Prof Richard Hudson Tel: +44 171 387 7050 ext 3152
Dept. of Phonetics and Linguistics Tel: +44 171 380 7172
 Fax: +44 171 383 4108
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
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Message 4: Re: 7.135, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Sun, 28 Jan 1996 09:07:27 MST
From: mary j bruesch <>
Subject: Re: 7.135, Disc: Emphasis
Heard this one on the local classical-music station a few years back:

"...Music of *Mo* ... music *of* Mozart."

So, at least in this announcer's dialect, normal sentence stress 
constitutes a speech error!

Mary Bruesch
University of New Mexico
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Message 5: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Sun, 28 Jan 1996 20:07:39 EST
From: <>
Subject: Re: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis
On officialese auxiliary stress Johanna Rubba wrote:

>I've always wondered what the motivation for this was; Crowe's paper puts
>forward some ideas, but is short. I wonder if anybody out there has a

Couldn't some of this be motivated by the fact that stressing a later word
that the speaker actually wishes listeners to notice would come out sounding
harsh, rude or unbureaucratic? For example, "Flight KL54 from Frankfurt is
now *arriving* at *Gate 3*," could give the impression of impatience at some
people having thought it was departing at Gate 10, or some other such
confusion. If so, it would seem that this auxiliary stress is a cool,
collected-sounding way of saying, "Listen carefully to the rest of the
sentence." It would be a way of signaling that every detail following must
be given complete attention. In fact, I often find myself remembering
everything that came *after* the stressed auxiliary, but having to inquire as
to what was said before it. 

Other languages would have other ways of handling this, for example in some
Slavic languages one might use stress emphasis for one important piece of
information and emphasize the other by placing it at the end of the sentence.
 English syntax doesn't allow this, vocal stress on every main word could
sound rude, so the auxiliary stress might be used to elicit attention to all
the material following. On the other hand, as pointed out, this stress can
take on a life of its own, probably by people who adopt bureaucratic forms
for their own sake. This would be much like an office coworker of mine who
will tell a client, "Well, find out and we'll get in touch with each other,"
and suddenly, nervously following it with, "Find out and either you'll touch
base with me, or I'll touch base with you, and we can touch base." To many
people the form is more important than the content or the purpose of a
particular construction.

James Kirchner
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Message 6: RE: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

Date: Mon, 29 Jan 1996 14:40:00
Subject: RE: 7.123, Disc: Emphasis

A couple of years ago I collected a corpus of British Rail announcements
on trains and at stations. I also noticed the emphasis on auxiliaries,
but only in announcements making apologies: "we DO apologise for the
late arrival of this train", "we ARE sorry for the delay to your
journey". It is not just a question of intonation, but sometimes of
inserting an emphatic auxiliary "do" as well.

Perhaps the announcer does not expect to be believed, and finds it
necessary to resort to such devices to add extra weight to the

Sue Blackwell
School of English
University of Birmingham
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