Functional characteristics of word-stress.

Like all phonetic phenomena, word-stress can be analized from a functional point of view as it performs three functions, such as constitutive, distinctive and recognitive.

The constitutive function manifests itself in the fact that every word, even a monosyllabic one, has its accent, which gives a finishing touch to creating the phonetic structure of the word as a language unit. Segmental phonemes are joined together into combinations and form syllables which are organized into the word by its accent. So, on the one hand, word-stress constitutes a word, it organizes the syllables of a word into a language unit which has a definite accentual structure, that is a pattern of relationship among the syllables. On the other hand, sound continuum becomes a phrase when it is divided into units organized by word-stress into words.

The distinctive function of word-stress, or rather of its degrees, makes word-stress a separate suprasegmental phonological unit which is called the wors accenteme. The number of word accentemes in a language with free word-stress is determined by the number of the latter’s distinctive degrees, The accentual patterns of words or the degrees of word stress form oppositions. In English there are two word-accentemes: primary and weak, corresponding to primary and weak degrees of word-stress.

Ex. 'import – im'port, 'black-bird – 'black 'bird (the opposition of primary and weak accentemes).

So, the distinctive function of word-stress in English helps to differentiate between parts of speech as well as compound words and word combinations.

The recognitive function of word stress consists in the correct accentuation of words, which facilitates their recognition and comprehension. Word-stress enables a person to identify a succession of syllables as a definite accentual pattern of a certain word. Correct accentuation helps the listener to makes the process of communication easier. If the accentual pattern of words is distorted, the listener’s attention is distracted from the contents of speech to its unusual form, and the normal process of communication is hampered. Misplaced word-stress does not only prevent normal understanding, but also often produces a comic impression.