When a word consists of two syllables one of them receives more stress of
voice than the other. This stress of voice is called accent. If the word
consists of three or more syllables there is usually another syllable
stressed in somewhat less degree. This is called a secondary accent. In
some cases there may even be a third accent if the word is very long;
_In’-come_, _val-e-tu’-di-na’-ri-an_. This fact arises from the tendency
natural to all human speech to take more or less musical forms. The
monotony of a series of stressed or of unstressed sounds would be
unbearable. The pronunciation of such a series would be a highly artificial
and very difficult performance. Correct pronunciation is very greatly
concerned with the proper placing of the accent. Indeed the meaning of a
familiar word may be quite obscured by a misplaced accent. For example,
_he-red’-it-ary_ is a very familiar word, but when pronounced
_he-red-it’-ary_, as it was habitually by a friend of the author, we have
to stop and think before catching the meaning.
The placing of the accent in English is subject to two general rules.
I The accent clings to the syllable which gives the meaning to the
word, or in technical terms, the root syllable, _re-call’_,
_in-stall’_, _in-stal-la’-tion_ (accent falling on the syllable
which defines the word as a noun), _in-her’-it_.
II Where the root syllable is not known the accent falls on the
first syllable, with secondary accents following at intervals to
relieve the voice.
This last tendency not infrequently supersedes the other, partly from the
natural habit of the language, and partly because the average man is not an
etymologist and knows very little about the derivation of the words he
uses. For example, in Shakespeare’s time English people followed the first
rule and said _re-ven’-ue_, but now we say _rev’-e-nue_.
These two rules will serve as a good general guide to accent. Attention
should be paid to the pronunciation of good speakers, and care taken to
follow it. In case of doubt the dictionary should be consulted and the
proper accent carefully fixed in the mind.