Old Stress Shift : on the structure of language

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      The parent Indo-Germanic language had a variable stress system. The stress could fall on the first, second or any other syllable without any seeming reason. In the primitive Germany, however, with the exception of a few words beginning with certain prefixes, the stress always fell on the first syllable. Verner has shown that this shifting of the place of the accent took place later than the Germanic consonant-shift, This old stress-shift has influenced the structure of the language to a consider able extent.

The significance of the stress-shift appears most clearly when we compare two sets of words in modern English.
Stress Shift

      The significance of the stress-shift appears most clearly when we compare two sets of words in modern English. Something like the Aryan stress system is found in numerous words taken in recent times from the classical languages, thus fa'mily fa'miliar, famili'arity, or pho'tograph, pho'tographer, photo graphic. The shifted Germanic system is shown in such group as king, "kingdom, "kingship, "kingly, kingless. In the Germanic stress system, the syllable that is most important has also the strongest stress. The fixing of the stress on the first syllable keeps the stem intact and prevents any obscuration of the connection between related words i.e., words derived from the same stem.

      Secondly, the stressing of the first syllable leads at first to the weakening and then to the disappearance of the last syllable in many words. There are instances where in course of time two last weak syllables disappeared one after another. This is one of thee reasons why there are so many mono-syllabic words in English. Moreover, the phonetic clearness inherent in the consistent stress-system is certainly a linguistic advantage.

      It should be noted, however, that words borrowed in later times from other languages, specially from non-Germanic sources or words framed on analogy with borrowed words do not show such uniform stress-system. Thus volcano is stressed on the second syllable, machination on the third and perpendicular on the fourth. But many words borrowed from other languages are stressed on the first syllable. As for example, virtue and country borrowed from French had in Chaucer their French accentuation - accent on the last syllable. Today like most di-syllabic nouns, they are pronounced with accent on the first syllable.

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