5. Stress-timed vs syllable-timed languages


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Languages can be classified according to whether they are stress-timed or syllable-timed.

In syllable-timed languages, the syllables occur at regular intervals (as in Spanish).

In a stress-timed language (like English) the stresses are equal distances apart even though the number of syllables between each stress is not the same. This means that some syllables have to be said very quickly if there are several between two stresses, and some are said slowly if there is one or none between two stresses.

For example, these three sentences take about the same time to say. Listen.

 Unit 1 – Lesson 3 – Podcast number 6




O O O Don’t tell mum.

O o O o O o Go and speak to mummy.

O o o O o o O o o Hurry and give it to Jonathan.
The main differences between stress-timed and syllable-timed languages lie in syllable structure (syllable length varies more in stress-timed languages than in syllable-timed languages), vowel reduction (in stress-timed languages vowels in unstressed syllables may be shortened or omitted), and lexical stress (stress-timed languages usually have word level stress). This means that in English we have short and long vowels, weak and disappearing vowels and stress patterns very different from Spanish. And that is why sometimes it is so difficult to understand!

Learners whose first language can be described as syllable-timed often have problems recognising and then producing features of English such as contractions, main and secondary stress, and elision. It is important to observe and copy the rhythmic patterns of speech.

Activities which can help you with recognition of these features of English include counting the number of words in a spoken sentence and sorting long words according to stress patterns.

A good pronunciation is important, but do not get obsessed, practice will help you achieve a pronunciation that everybody will understand.


Here you can find out about features of the English language including pronunciation vocabulary, grammar and stress patterns.

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Many people have heard about the Scots language but aren’t sure what it is. Scots has been spoken in Scotland for many centuries and is found today throughout the Lowlands and Northern Isles. English, Scots and Gaelic are the three indigenous languages spoken in Scotland today. At the beginning, many foreign visitors to Scotland find the Scottish way of speaking English rather difficult to understand. However, it is not so different after all. Some words used in Scotland are rather similar to words in other European countries. The fact is that, where Scots is different from English, it is similar to other European Languages.

The Northern European elements in Scots come from several sources. Around the middle of the fifth century, Anglo-saxon tribes invaded the south-east of England from Germany and the Angles began to move north. Not long afterwards, a group of Celtic tribes crossed from Ireland into Argyll. They were known as the Scots. About two hundred years later the two peoples, Angles and Scots, faced each other across the river Forth. English -or Old English- had been introduced from into the southern-easter part of Celtic-speaking Scotland. Some of the words we think today as Scots are simply old English words which have died out further south, such as greet for weep and reek for smoke. Others are based on the difference between English and Scots pronunciation: coo, rin, dochter and nicht for cow, run, daughter and night. The Scottish pronunciation is closer to that of Old English in general -as can be seen by the spelling of daughter and night- but this later changed in the Southern and Midland dialects due to sound shifts.

Around the year 800 the Vikings from Scandinavia began their attacks on the north and east of England. They eventually established a kingdom based on York. The North was no longer part of England and became part of Celtic Scotland. The King of Scots ruled over most of what is now mainland Scotland, with Gaelic as the dominant language. However from the eleventh century, strong southern influences came to bear. In 1068 a refugee from the Norman Conquest arrived in Scotland. Her name was Margaret and she was of the Saxon Royal family. She married the king of Scots, Malcolm, the Malcolm who killed Macbeth. In the succeeding years, and especially during the reign of David I, many Anglo-Norman noble families and monasteries moved up from north-east England. Although their own language was Norman-French, that of their retainers and followers was a form of northern English with strong Scandinavian influence (still noticeable in modern Scots in words such as brae, graith, lowp and nieve). This developing language, then known as Inglis, spread very rapidly, especially through trade in the newly-founded burghs, and soon reached most of the east and south-west of the country.

Cultural contact led to the importation of new words into the language. Norse words have as already been noted. From Gaelic words to do with landscape are taken, such as ben, glen and strath. From Dutch, through strong trading links with the Low Countries, came loon, pinkie, golf and scone. Latin was more widely used than in England, especially for legal terms, such as homologate (ratify) and sederunt. French came not only from the Anglo-Norman aristocracy and from Parisian French arriving via English, but also from direct contact between Scotland and France in what became known as the Auld Alliance. This was a series of treaties and diplomatic alliances between 1295 and 1560. Examples of French words in Scots are fash, ashet, leal and aumrie.

From these sources a language developed in Southern Scotland which began to push the older Celtic Language, known as gaelic, back into the north and west. A fairly small number of Gaelic words have found their way into English, either from Scots Gaelic or its cousin language, Irish. These include bother, clan, galore, slogan, tory and whisky (from uisge beatha, water of life)

Events, however, soon led to a process of anglicization which has continued to this day. From the Scottish Reformation in 1560, Scotland began to look to Protestant England rather than to Catholic France. In the absence of a Scots translation of the Bible, an English one, the Geneva Bible, was used in churches, creating a severe handicap to the formal, written use of Scots in many important areas of society. With the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, the court of James VI moved to London, thus removing much of the focus of literary life. With the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, anglicizing influences were strengthened and English became the language of government and of polite society.

Scots can be heard today, but mainly among working people and those living in the countryside. Though it still has a written form this tends to be restricted to poetry and there is no standarised spelling. The language used by the middle classes in Scotland is English though often with a sprinkling of Scots words and a Scottish accent.

Some Scots words have survived because they have passed into standard English. These include blackmail, glamour, pet, relevant, uncanny and gruesome.

Sources: http://www.scotslanguage.com/books/view/2/

Rellenar huecos


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under Public Domain



Match their meanings with these words of Scottish origin commonly used in English.

Definition Number Line
Valley. 1. Tweed
An attractive and exciting quality. 2. Bard
Demanding money from someone in return for not revealing discreditable information. 3. Loch
Strange and frightening. 4. Glen
A small unsweetened cake made from flour, fat, and milk. 5. Glamour
Lake. 6. Caddie
Poet. 7. Blackmail
A rough-surfaced woollen cloth, typically of mixed flecked colours, originally produced in Scotland. 8. Eerie
A person who carries a golfer’s clubs and provides other assistance during a match. 9. Scone

A step ahead

Listen to this song by The Proclaimers, a Scottish band composed of identical twin brothers, Charlie and Craig Reid. Two decades ago the Proclaimers were virtually the only high-profile Scottish act to sing in their own accent; now it’s the norm. The new bands are inspired by the country’s traditional music, and they sing in their own accents too.

“I’ve been so sad
Since you said my accent was bad

I’m just going to have to learn to hesitate
To make sure my words
On your Saxon ears don’t grate
But I wouldn’t know a single word to say
If I flattened all the vowels
And threw the ‘R’ away”
Here you can read the complete lyrics.

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