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Review of  A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World

Reviewer: Karen Steffen Chung
Book Title: A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World
Book Author: Harry van der Hulst Rob Goedemans Ellen van Zanten
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Issue Number: 23.1573

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EDITORS: Harry van der Hulst, Rob Goedemans & Ellen van Zanten
TITLE: A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World
PUBLISHER: Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

This extremely ambitious volume attempts to survey the range of possible
accentual system types -- “accent” and “stress” are mostly used interchangeably
in this book -- in the world’s languages. The book is organized mainly
geographically, by continent (e.g. Europe, Asia, Africa), region (Papua New
Guinea and Irian Jaya, the Middle East), or language family (Austronesian);
continent and family coincide with Australian.

The first chapter of Part I, “Word accent: Terms, typologies and theories,” by
Harry van der Hulst, introduces the book’s approach, terminology, and the
StressTyp database, from which the volume draws a good part but by far not all
of its data. It clarifies the notions of and differences between accent, stress,
pitch accent, pitch, and duration. Linguistic tone is specifically not addressed
in detail in this survey, in order to maintain the book’s focus on
accent/stress, but it is mentioned and described when it coexists with a stress
system. It is in fact not always so easy to determine whether a feature should
be considered “tone” or “accent,” and sometimes there is an interdependent and
interactive relationship between the two, as in “hybrid” languages with a
combined tone-accent system, of which there are many in Middle and South
America. Often a language will however lean more to one side or the other.
Sometimes the data cited by the authors is inconsistent with that in StressTyp,
and this is generally pointed out in the text. With such an immense volume of
data, there are bound to be errors, and evolving analyses; so one purpose of
this project was to check through the StressTyp data and compare it with that
cited in other sources.

Below are listed the topics and authors of the remaining chapters for Part I,
with brief comments on each:

2. Australian Languages, by Rob Goedemans. Most Australian languages favor left
edge as the location of main stress, though there is variation. This chapter
also introduces the StressTyp database framework.

3. Austronesian Languages, by Ellen van Zanten, Ruben Stoel and Bert Remijsen.
The Austronesian family number about 1,200 or 20% of the world’s languages, and
they tend to favor right-edge stress.

4. Papuan Languages, by Ellen van Zanten and Philomena Dol. About 750 different
languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, some tonal, making it the most
linguistically diverse area in the world, and this diversity also extends to
stress types.

5. North American Languages, by Keren Rice. One classification posits 62
families and isolates, with expectedly diverse stress types.

6. Middle American Languages, by Harry van der Hulst, Keren Rice and Leo
Wetzels. These are mainly divided into tonal and pitch accent systems.

7. South American Languages, by Leo Wetzels and Sergio Meira. The number of
reliable descriptions for these languages is small, however, pitch accent and
hybrid pitch accent-tone systems are common.

8. African Languages, by Laura Downing. Over 2,000 languages in four families
are recorded for Africa in Ethnologue. The languages of sub-Saharan Africa are
overwhelmingly tonal, often with stress as well. The well-described non-tonal
languages are generally quite clearly stress languages.

9. European Languages, by Harry van der Hulst. This chapter covers languages in
five families, extending to the Caucasus. Many types of accent systems are
found, with some languages exhibiting tonal features, some with very weak accent.

10. Asian Languages, by René Schiering and Harry van der Hulst. This chapter
covers a wide range of diverse families and languages, with many kinds of stress
and tone systems.

11. Middle Eastern Languages, by Harry van der Hulst and Sam Hellmuth. This
chapter is one of the shortest, since it only needed to survey languages of the
Middle East, all Afro-Asiatic languages with stress systems, that were not
already covered in “Asia” and “Africa.”

12. A typology of stress patterns, by Rob Goedemans. This chapter recaps the
main features of accentual patterns of the world presented in the book. It could
serve as a useful overview of the highlights and findings of the entire volume.

It is notable that the book starts with chapters on less-known linguistic areas
and language families: native Australia, Austronesian, Papua New Guinea, and
native North, Middle and South America. Likewise, some of the individual
chapters start out with introductions of less familiar languages and language
groups, e.g. Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan for Africa, Chukoto-Kamchatkan,
Ket, and Yukaghir for Europe, and Beja for the Middle East.

The different possibilities of stress placement in the world’s languages are
presented starting on p. 32. Fixed primary accents can be counted from the left:
initial, second, or third syllable; or from the right: ultimate, penultimate,
antepenultimate. Variable accent may depend on syllable weight, or on lexical
properties. Systems in which accent is assigned to one or the other syllable of
a bisyllabic window are ‘bounded’. In accent systems with unbounded windows,
primary accent can occur anywhere in the word.

Many of the authors start off their chapters by describing the survey’s
limitations and inevitable omissions and errors -- but it is clear that all
worked hard to produce as representative an overview as possible, carefully
sifting through a mind-boggling amount of data and hand-picking the most
illustrative bits, which they then organized, analyzed and commented on. Rather
than just giving a linear account of what they found, it is clear that they
digested the information thoroughly, synthesized it, and came up with many
valuable insights on it.

In lieu of trying to provide an exhaustive summary, below are a few selected
points in an effort to give readers some concise sense of the range of issues
covered in this work.

1. Many languages, such as Swedish, have tonal contrasts only on stressed
syllables; a stressed syllable is more “stretchable” in terms of expressing the
features of duration, pitch, spectral tilt, vowel quality or clarity, and
amplitude (pp. 5, 9).

2. There are differing views as to whether schwas – which for many languages
must figure prominently in any discussion of stress – are lexical, or allophonic
(p. 6).

3. Amplitude is not used distinctively in any language, and thus is only
‘allophonic’ (p. 7).

4. All languages allow monoconsonantal onsets (p. 7) – mentioned in a context
that describes how stress is often linked to syllable structure and whether the
syllable is “heavy” or “light”.

5. Stressed syllables may have extra phonotactic possibilities, i.e. greater
complexity, may mark sites for morphological processes, or be anchors for
intonational tones (p. 9).

6. The main difference between languages with stress and those with pitch accent
is that pitch is the only main distinguishing feature in languages with a pitch
accent system, in contrast to languages with stress, which is correlated with
multiple features. Perhaps this should be obvious, but the difference between
Japanese pitch accent and English-type stress might not be immediately apparent
to language learners without clarification (p. 251).

7. In languages with contrastive length, duration is usually not the most
important feature to mark stress (p. 325).

8. Some analyses claim that in some Tupí-Guaraní languages, nasality as an
underlying feature always correlates with stress, so that there would always be
at most one underlying nasal in a word, with other surface nasal vowels
resulting from nasal spreading from the stressed vowel (p. 328).

9. Genuine non-stress accent systems seem to be very rare in South American
languages; and this may be true of languages in general as well (p. 359).

10. In some languages, the penultimate or other non-final syllable may be
preferred for tone, since a pitch drop in the final syllable may provide greater
contrast; and spreading a tone over two syllables may make it more prominent
than realizing it only on the final syllable (p. 414).

11. Compound noun stress in Germanic is touched on (p. 442) but, as in many
other works on stress, is not treated in depth.

12. Tone has been found in dialects of German and Dutch (pp. 448-9).

13. Even fully tonal languages like Chinese are included in this survey. Beijing
Mandarin has a trochaic stress pattern, due to the neutral tone, plus a system
of alternating stress in polysyllabic words (p. 580).

14. Hebrew words are generally stressed on the final syllable … with the
exception of children’s games; so: kla'fim is ‘cards’, 'klafim is a ‘card game’;
mono'pol is ‘monopoly’, mo'nopol is the game ‘Monopoly’. This is also happening
to personal names like Yael, and other words in colloquial speech, apparently
influenced by the Yiddish accent (p. 624).

Discussion often draws on data from lesser-known languages, such as Alawa
(Australia), Enggano (Indonesia), Siroi (Papua New Guinea), Polabian (West
Slavic, extinct), Bawn (Sino-Tibetan), Murle (Sudan), and Siculo Arabic (extinct).

Part II presents brief profiles of the 511 languages from the StressTyp database
as of 2009, with source references after each. The geographical areas are
somewhat different from those in part I: Australian, Austronesian, Papua New
Guinea and Irian Jaya, North American, Middle American, South American, Eurasian
(all the languages of Europe plus those spoken in India that belong to the
Proto-Indo-European language family), Asian, and Middle Eastern and African.
This part is useful for quick reference on individual languages and language

It is hard to imagine any one, or even two or three people, having the expertise
to take on entire chapters of a book like this with sweeping titles like “Asia”
and “Europe.” Yet the book does an admirable job of what it set out to do. The
book does not claim completeness, an impossibility given the current state of
descriptions of accentual systems in many or most of the world’s languages,
including even some widely studied ones. But it does lay a broad and solid
foundation for descriptions of accentual systems in an impressive number of
languages, making it a valuable contribution to our understanding of the
possibilities of stress. The book can be considered “theory neutral,” making it
easily accessible to linguists working in any framework -- a significant strength.

Being a thick book full of technical data, the volume doesn’t lend itself that
well to cover-to-cover reading; and its main target purchasers are certainly
first and foremost university libraries. However, scholars who specialize in
prosody and stress in language might consider getting their own copy, slogging
through it, and keeping it handy for reference. The rewards of doing so are
many, as suggested by the preceding lists.

An organization based on a combination of geography, region and language family
means that many unrelated languages are treated in the same chapter, while
special concessions had to be made for languages spoken on more than one
continent, e.g. Arabic could have been included in either or both Asia and
Africa, but was in fact put in a special chapter, the Middle East. However, once
readers familiarize themselves with the organizational scheme, it is relatively
easy to find one’s way around. The subject index is not complete; for example,
“segolate” isn’t listed, but this is a minor quibble. One could consider getting
the electronic edition, or accessing it through a library -- this could solve
the weight and bulk issue, and would have the added advantage of easy
searchability. The book has a clean, attractive, easy-to-use format, with only a
very few typos spotted -- no mean feat for a work of this scale.

_A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World_ might well
be unrivaled thus far as *the* place to begin a study of stress in the world’s

Karen Steffen Chung is an associate professor of English and linguistics in the foreign language department of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and also teaches English over the radio and Internet. Her areas of specialization include phonetics, teaching of pronunciation, and Chinese morphology. She is the author of _Mandarin Compound Verbs_, which received an NTU excellent research award in 2007, and is currently working on a book on Taiwan English in collaboration with the Institute of Linguistics of the Academia Sinica, Taipei.