Under Stress: A Functional Explanation of English Sentence Stress

Nomi Shir, Shalom Lappin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


In this paper we argue that it is possible to account for sentential stress in English in terms of the pragmatic property of Dominance, which is assigned to a constituent in discourse contexts.1We have shown elsewhere (Erteschik-Shir & Lappin, 1979) that constraints on extraction from syntactic islands, and conditions on certain rules of semantic interpretation are best formulated in terms of the notion of Dominance. In the first part of the paper we review our definition of Dominance and provide operational tests for discerning its presence. In part 2 of the paper we state a rule which assigns primary stress to the constituent of the sentence which is marked for Dominance. We illustrate the operation of this rule with examples of stress patterns which it generates. In part 3 we then compare our analysis of stress with various other proposals for dealing with this phenomenon which are current in the literature. In part 4 we defend the distinction between contrastive and non-contrastive stress, while rejecting the notion of normal sentence stress. We claim that contrastive stress is, in fact, an instance of a distinct set of stress patterns which we refer to as restrictive stress. The assignment of restrictive stress is not marked, but is independently conditioned by three pragmatic features. We characterize these features and formulate rules for the prediction of restrictive stress. We also discuss the relationship between Dominant and restrictive stress. Finally, in the last section of the paper we indicate how the occurrence of primary stress on pronouns and reflexives can be analysed within the framework of our theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-453
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Under Stress: A Functional Explanation of English Sentence Stress'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this