Wondering how to accurately represent stress. In IPA, stress, is marked with ˈ◌. But in languages like Spanish (don't know of other languages that use acute accent, other than Ancient Greek), you have película, which also demonstrates the stress. It seems you might write that in IPA as peˈlicula. More accurate would be to surround the syllable in some way, such as pe{li}cula. That's all pretty straight forward, because in Spanish for the most part (from what I can remember) it's usually simple consonant/vowel pairs chained together, as opposed to complex vowel sequences like in English with gaia for example.

A more complex example of stress that gets me confused is with words like round. When I pronounce that, I stress at the beginning: "RROUnd". So in IPA it might be like ˈround. But I would like to get more specific than that and mark off where exactly the stress is occurring, which I can't completely figure out at first. It seems like {rou}nd I would say.

So that gets me to the question about the acute accent like used in Spanish. If I were to to try to place that on round, it could be in one of 3 places perhaps.

  • ŕou (this seems to be the most accurate)
  • róu (but this may be more like "err-OOU-nd")
  • roú (but this would be more like "rou-OO-nd")

Another example is verse, it is like {ver}se or /ˈvr.s/

Another example is fantastic. If it were Spanish you might do fantástic. But in reality it is like fan-TAS-tic, the whole syllable is stressed. Wondering if the acute accent in this case is just shorthand for marking the whole syllable as accented.

So the questions are:

  1. If the acute accent (like in Spanish) can accurately represent stress in all cases.
  2. If there is a better way of representing stress and how long it lasts over a few sounds/letters.
  3. What is actually being stressed, in detail, in different complex words. Basically, even though there is the IPA and Spanish way of marking stress, it would be helpful to know about a good resource that goes into more depth on what is actually occurring during stress.

Also would be interested to know any other ways different languages represent stress.

  • The English diphthongs are all falling diphthongs so it is the [a] part, not [ʊ], of [aʊ] in round that gets prominent when stressed. This is why the diphthong is alternatively represented as /aw/ and can be narrowly transcribed as [aʊ̯], with the non-syllabicity diacritic.
    – Nardog
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 20:37

1 Answer 1


I have to first point out that "represent" is ambiguous in linguistics: it could refer to a mental object, such as "the representation of tone in the (mental) grammar of Chinese", or it could refer to writing practices – how to notate a thing. I take it that you are asking about notation rather than the underlying mental thing. Even so, there is a difference between linguist conventions and official orthographic practices.

In the realm of linguists practices, IPA has a notational convention, but it doesn't carry any strong ontological commitments. If you write [peˈlikula], you are just saying that there is a stress in an approximate location. IPA does not embody a theory of what things have stress or what stress is, although there are such theories (for example, "stress is a property of a syllable", the standard theory of stress since the late 70's). There is a common practice in IPA transcriptions that the stress mark is positioned at the beginning of the syllable, but it's not an absolute requirement of the notational system. (Some phoneticians dispute the existence of syllables). The transcription [pe.ˈli.ku.la] is a notational variant of [pe{ˈli}kula], using devices already in the IPA (plus, not inventing a notation just for delimiting the domain of stress).

That is as far as we can go with questions of linguist notations, but there are still (theoretical) questions about the facts of "stress". Most prominently, we can still ask "what thing 'has stress'?". Using the range of things available in most phonological theories, that would be the syllable, the mora, the segment and the syllable rime. The discussion could then turn to the question of whether a language might put stress on individual moras. So far, there is no evidence for a more fine-grained distinction in what things are stressed. Languages do not distinguish syllables where the stress is on the first consonant, or the first vowel of a diphthong versus the second. If a language did contrast monosyllabic [rˈau] and [raˈu] then it would be inaccurate to represent both the same way. Since that situation doesn't arise, the current system is good enough.

In transcriptions, use of an accent mark to indicate stress violates IPA conventions (they notate tones, not stress) so the question of accuracy is meaningless in that context. With other transcription conventions it is pretty standard to use acute accent for primary stress and grave for secondary stress.

Language orthographies do not adhere to IPA conventions, even if they employ letter also used in the IPA. There might be orthographic differences between e.g. <ráu> and <raú>, which in that language denotes the difference [ˈra.u] versus [ra.ˈu]. In terms of accurately representing the contrasts of a language within an orthographic system, such a use of accent marks is reasonable. Languages which actually mark stress in their orthographies are not very common, and in the case of Spanish, marking a vowel in a two-vowel doesn't necessarily indicate positional difference in stress (it marks syllabicity, apart from those cases where it isn't used to mark anything phonological, like in cuál vs. cual). Modern Greek is a little unusual in regularly marking stress. More often, accents are used for stress, but only idiosyncratically, such as the pair en versus én in Norwegian to distinguish "a" and "1".

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