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From what I've heard, syllable-timed languages have syllables of equal length throughout each breath-group (i.e. bit of spoken discourse said in one breath), and stress-timed languages have breath-groups of equal length. By this account, the former entails variation in the length of each breath-group and the latter entails variation in syllable length.

However, I could have botched these definitions. Also, I've heard rumors that the timing scheme in a given language can change with rate of speech. I've also heard a rumor that this distinction isn't quite valid.

Therefore I'm asking for a brief and authoritative statement about the difference between stress-timing and syllable timing, and whether this distinction is considered valid by linguists.

  • The only article I can seem to find a full copy of is On the distinction between 'stress-timed' and 'syllable-timed' languages by Peter Roach. However the preamble to that paper states it is out-of-date. What that means with respect to the definitions it puts forward, I don't know. – acattle Aug 15 '12 at 1:27
  • There are also mora-timed languages. Some examples are discussed here. – Gaston Ümlaut Aug 15 '12 at 7:47
  • "stress-timed languages have breath-groups of equal length". Are you sure it's not stress-groups of equal length? – dainichi Aug 15 '12 at 17:09
  • Actually, I'm not sure. What is a stress group? – James Grossmann Aug 15 '12 at 23:36
  • 2
    @JamesGrossmann, I'm not sure if that's a real word. AFAIK stressed-timed languages have roughly equidistant stressed syllables. I.e. when there's a lot of unstressed syllables between two stressed ones, you tend to pronounce them quicker. – dainichi Aug 22 '12 at 15:48
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See the figure. Line 1 is stress timed (secondary stress ignored) and line 2 is syllable timed. IIRC, the time between each dot is the same.

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • Unfortunately Stackoverflow doesn't accept SVG, then the figure would be editable. – kaleissin May 8 '13 at 14:39

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