How can you write/capture the generalized phonological rule for:

The primary stress on all words is on the first syllable?

It's been awhile since I've had to formally write rules, and I'm needing a refresher....Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • 1
    Which frameworks are you using?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 23, 2017 at 2:11

2 Answers 2


The question cannot be answered in a theoretical vacuum, especially when it comes to stress. However, in standard SPE style rule theory, this would be "V → [+stress] / #Co _". "V" is a common abbreviation for "[+syllabic]" and "C" for [-syllabic]. "Co" (where "o" is subscript-zero) means "any number of; "#" is the standard symbol for word boundary. The SPE account did not have syllables, instead stress was assigned to vowels. The expression "any number of consonants" was required since a rule applying to a vowel in the context "#__" would only apply to a word-initial vowel.

Post-SPE (starting around 1977), this segmental theory of stress was abandoned for a metrical theory of stress, where syllables were labeled as "prominent" or "strong", versus "weak". In that approach, you would make the first syllable of the word be "strong". The exact mechanism for doing this changed over time: it sometimes involved building tree structures, sometimes piling up marks like "x" or "*", sometimes putting in brackets (paired or not). As for the formalism of rules, there usually weren't any, instead a language would be said to have certain "parameters", such as "build a left-headed foot", "start at the left", "ignore the first syllable", all of which were said to be part of an inventory of parameters in Universal Grammar. Consequently, the actual rule part in a grammar was negligible, and usually neglected. Hayes, in his dissertation, offered a few rules, such as "destressing", which (in Aklan) is "delete a non-branching foot before a strong syllable:

F → Ø / ___ s
         |  σ
  • Stress neutral affixes such as "-ing" or "-ness" are attached to stems with a single "#".
    – Greg Lee
    Sep 22, 2017 at 19:21
  • This is a feature of the SPE analysis of English. English doesn't have initial stress, so I assume that this rule is for English.
    – user6726
    Sep 22, 2017 at 19:37
  • ₀ (subscript zero) is Unicode character U+2080, in case you want to edit that.
    – pablodf76
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:46

Using the usual notation of Generative Phonology, that could be formulated: V -> [1 stress] / ##C0__ (where the 0 is a subscript).


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