Stressless in stressville

Someone has to help this person out, and it ain’t gonna be me.

[Via LINGUIST List.]

Date: Wed, 1 Sep 2004 21:52:32 +0300
From: VC <>
Subject: The definition of stress

Dear Listmembers,

I’m preparing a work on the Canaanean language, and became suspicious that the folks had somewhat different understanding of stress than we do now.

Perhaps you can advise me on the following questions:

What exactly is the definition of “stress”? I assumed it is an elongation of the vowel, but I’ve seen other definitions, like difference of pitch (which is ok for, say, umlaut, but I cannot figure out what it has to do with stress) and even stress (yes, the tautology “stress is a stressed vowel”).

If, however, stress is an elongation, how could a short vowel be stressed? Presumably, it should become long under the stress. However, the short vowels in closed syllables seemingly do not become long when stressed.

What becomes of long vowel under the stress? Although elongated, it hardly becomes “extra long.” What exactly is the difference between long and stressed long vowels?

Why there is a tendency in languages to move the stress from closed to open syllable?

I would appreciate any comments. Thank you in advance.


Vadim Cherny

(Not uninteresting that the initials are “VC” …)