Apparently is common, so I wanted to know just how much.

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    Define stress? Some languages don't have anything I'd call "stress" in the first place. – Draconis Sep 14 at 4:10
  • Stress = any kind of emphasis given to a syllable; it's usually done by raising or decreasing it's volume, duration or pitch. You left me quite curious with no languages having stress, might extending that a little? – Duarte Alfonso Martin Sep 14 at 11:01
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    That assumes there are polysyllabic words with syllables distinguished by emphasis. This isn't true of most languages. – jlawler Sep 14 at 16:36
  • I didn't say stress that had to happen in every syllable, only it's characteristics when it is put in use. – Duarte Alfonso Martin Sep 16 at 11:16

Sometimes people talk of sentential intonation as a kind of "stress", but Í would never do thàt. Still, including that phenomenon under the umbrella of stress, all languages have many degrees of "stress". Standardly, "stress" is a property of words, and excludes sentential intonation. Although many languages have some kind of stress (lengthening and pitch modulations are the basic phonetic exponents of stress), not all languages do. Some examples of languages without any degree of stress are Gen, Shua, Guerze and Matumbi: these are tone language. There has been a contrary belief that stress and tone are mutually incompatible properties, but there are enough languages documented with some form of "stress" (typically durational manipulations) that we can say that Zulu, Shambaa and various dialects of Chinese have both tone and stress. Demonstrated "stress" in a tone language is uncommon, and since up to a third of the world's languages are tonal, that would be a substantial source of possibly no-stress languages. French is the best-known examle of a language with neither tone nor word stress, though some people interpret the language as having final stress; Tigre is a similar less-known case.

Usually, it takes a fancy phonetic study to demonstrate that a language "has secondary stress", though you do find cases like English where it is a contrastive property and is easy to document (noun permit versus vomit). In Finnic languages, there does seem to be secondary stress (on every other syllable – it's rule-governed). But there is no evidence for secondary stress in quite a number of other languages, for example Kurdish, Arabic, Sundanese.

There are also languages which have multiple stresses within a word (a prerequisite for having primary versus secondary stress), but where no syllable is more prominent that the other. Tübatulabal and Waorani are described as having regular alternating stress but no difference in phonetic prominence between primary and secondary stresses.

  • Wow, you just blew my mind. Languages with no stress and languages with many but no difference in phonetic prominence? It's so unreal! Though, I believe I should ask what you take "stress" to be. According to the definition I wrote above, it includes any kind of emphasis, wich means "stress" and "tone" could refer to the same thing. You seem to think differently. Also, could you link me to any source that explain more deeply the matter of non-stress and multi-stress? – Duarte Alfonso Martin Sep 16 at 11:28

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