5

I guess this is really a difference of stress (though I confess, as a non-native, I barely perceive it).

  • Obama lives in the White House (white has primary stress?)
  • I live in the white house on this street.
  • Whitehouse is the Chief Surgeon here. (Same as white house in sentence two?)
4
  • Whitehouse probably does not pronounce the h as such.
    – Joop Eggen
    Aug 15, 2016 at 10:42
  • @Joop Eggen You mean the h in house? Aug 15, 2016 at 12:44
  • So in American English, since the h goes away in Whitehouse, /t/ flaps because it is intervocalic.
    – user6726
    Aug 15, 2016 at 14:57
  • 1
    Henry Lee Smith used to use that distinction to illustrate intonation and stress. Not every white house is the White House was the example sentence.
    – jlawler
    Aug 16, 2016 at 3:30

3 Answers 3

7

You are right to say that the difference between these is one of stress. "White House" has a single stress on the first syllable, "white house" has an equal stress on both syllables.

Linguistically the difference is that "White House" is a compound, while "white house" is an adjective-plus-noun phrase.

6
  • 1
    I agree. Maybe in white house, stress is a bit stronger on house. Aug 15, 2016 at 12:44
  • 2
    This is actually the typical stress behaviour for compunds (stress on the first part of the compound) vs. adjective modified nouns (stress on both parts with tendency towards the noun, i.e. second part). Aug 15, 2016 at 13:22
  • 1
    @lemontree. Yes, this is absolutely the typical stress pattern for English compounds if both components are monosyllabic. If the components are polysyllabic there is typically a stress on each one of them.
    – fdb
    Aug 15, 2016 at 21:50
  • I don’t agree that there is only a single stress in White House – there is only a single primary stress, yes, but House still carries secondary (or perhaps tertiary) stress, too. That is the primary difference between the building the White House and the name Whitehouse: the name really does have only one stressed syllable, with -house being completely unstressed. Additionally, there is (usually) no pre-fortis clipping in White- in the name, while there (often) is in White House. Jan 17 at 23:57
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: This all depends on what you use the word "stress" for. Some phoneticians, such as John Wells, prefer to say that those kinds of syllables are unstressed, but have a "strong" or unreduced vowel, in contrast to unstressed syllables that contain reduced vowels (I assume that is the kind of pronunciation of "Whitehouse" that you are referring to? I'm not familiar with the name). Jan 19 at 4:25
1

It is a difference in stress, adjective 2white 1house versus compound 1white3house, but it's also a difference in rhythm. The adjective 2 1 construction is 2 measures versus the 1 measure of the compound 1 3 noun:

o BA ma | LIVES in the | WHITEhouse  (3 measures for the compound)  
o BA ma | LIVES in the | WHITE | HOUSE (4 measures for the adjective)
1

The answers given are good. To reply to one of the comments above, the "h" is pronounced in both cases in American English; it is a question of stress that determines the difference. wɑ́jt haws vs. wɑjt háws

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