More stressed

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Jack Windsor Lewis has devoted his latest blog post to amplifying my efforts on the changing pattern of English stress. One comment he makes is that he has not personally heard ‘trajectory. This is actually my own pronunciation. I’m a few years younger than Jack, and I don’t think I’ve been influenced in my stressing of this word by any linguistic knowledge I may have picked up over the last few decades. One of the other words I mentioned, that Jack has picked up on, is secretive. The last person I heard say se’cretive was Tony Benn, a very left-wing Labour politician, but from a semi-aristocratic family (he inherited the Viscountcy of Stansgate, but refused to accept it, and ultimately caused a change in English law in the early 1960s). His accent was a rather conservative (small ‘c’) RP, and so this pronunciation was clearly a survival from pre-war days.

Having mentioned decade in the last paragraph, this is another word that has undergone two changes in the last hundred years. The BBC’s recommendation, as given by the Advisory Committee on Spoken English in 1928, was spelled in Broadcast English I: Recommendations to Announcers Regarding Certain Words of Doubtful Pronunciation as ‘dékkad’, changed by the 3rd edition in 1935 to ‘déckăd’. This was such an unremarkable pronunciation that in the Society for Pure English’s Tract no. XXXII, (1929)  which was Broadcast English I “Re-issued with Criticisms, edited by Robert Bridges”, no mention of decade is made. I should remind readers that Robert Bridges was also the Chairman of the BBC Committee that issued the original booklet! My own pronunciation of decade is /ˈdekeɪd/, still with first syllable stress, but with a diphthong in the second. Many people now say /dɪˈkeɪd/, which makes it a homophone of decayed, which some might consider unfortunate.

In the interests of completeness, I can report that I heard both in’tegral and com’munal within ten minutes this morning on Radio 4.


One Comment

  1. I’m the same age as Graham and from the same dialect and I also can’t remember ever hearing ˋtrajectory. (Obviously Graham and I have never discussed ballistics.) (Or shot at each other.)
    I think for some speakers, including myself, ‘decade’ may have a roaming stress. I first noticed roaming stress when I was trying to learn the local pronunciation of place names in S California and the name ‘Del Mar’ took a primary stress on ‘Del’ in ‘the Del Mar racetrack’ but on ‘Mar’ in ‘He lives in Del Mar’. From the same speaker (native, even, and native S Californians were a very rare breed). The other syllable always took secondary stress.
    As a graduate student of linguistics at the time, I naturally brought this up as a subject of departmental conversation and the general consensus reached was that the primary stress was shifted to avoid being close to other primary stressed syllables. And try writing that rule in the ‘Sound Pattern of English’ notation.

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