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There are three sets of verbs to point out the location of stress, which are: (Bold implies stress)

A => exit

B => exist

C => improve, surprise

C - consonant / V - Vowel

According to this data, the rule between A and B is that if the verb ends with CVC pattern, stress is on the penultimate syllable; if it is CVCC pattern, then the stress is on the last syllable. Further on, for C, a rule was given which is, if the last syllable of a verb (even if it's CVCC) contains a long vowel (tense vowels and diphtongs), stress is placed there.

My question is how it is so? The vowels may as well become long because they're stressed (rule implies that they become stressed because they're long).

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    Don't forget that stress is not always determined by the phonemes in English. It has semantic value in some cases. – Luke Sawczak Oct 26 '18 at 0:19
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I thin you're right to bring up this point. As far as I know, there are alternative ways of looking at the rules for English stress and vowel quality/reduction, and I don't think the matter has been definitively settled yet.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned in the data that you give (where did you get it from, by the way?) is the apparent relevance of morphological structure: astonish ends in -ish, which can be identified as a verb suffix or at least as an ending that shows up on a number of verbs (consider pub-lish, pub-lic; pun-ish, pun-itive and fin-ish, fin-al for some possible evidence for the existence of -ish as an identifiable suffix, although none of these are productive patterns), whereas improve, combine, believe, collapse, exist, resent, revolt, insist all start with prefixes (from an etymological perspective, at least).

In some prefixed disyllabic words, the surface form ends in CVC but the second syllable is still stressed: emit, omit, reset, refit, repel, dispell, compress, impress, redress. These can be analyzed as having an "underlying" form ending in a "virtual" geminate (see the previous question English stress, abstract analysis), but this makes the situation less simple than the originally stated rule implies.

Unless we adopt a "virtual geminate" hypothesis (or something similar), this class of words would also pose a problem for your alternative hypothesis that "The vowels may as well become long because they're stressed".

One paper you might be interested in reading is "Rethinking English vowel alternation", by Jonathan B. Alcantara (1994).

  • Thanks, that explains a lot. I removed some of the data because it was a paper to study in class (it might be copyrighted or the teacher may not be okay with sharing) – Yanek Yuk Oct 25 '18 at 11:05
  • I couldn't find that paper anywhere. I couldn't even find the author anywhere online. – Yanek Yuk Oct 25 '18 at 15:29
  • @YanekYuk: It's the first paper in this PDF: conf.ling.cornell.edu/plab/paper/wpcpl9.pdf – sumelic Oct 25 '18 at 21:48
  • I found the original source of the examples. On page 270 of An Introduction to Language (10th Edition, International Edition) by V. Fromkin, R. Rodman, and N. Hyams. – Yanek Yuk Oct 29 '18 at 14:03

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