Why does IPA have stress here /ɡəˈʃtɔlt/ instead of here /ɡəʃˈtɔlt/?

  • 4
    Don't blame the alphabet for how individuals use it. If you think the stress should be elsewhere, great, write it how you think is best.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 3:23
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    I am a bit confused by this. German “Gestalt” has /ɑ/ , not /ɔ/. Are you asking about the English loanword, or rather the English mispronunciation of the German word?
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 10:14
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    The difference is completely unreadable on my screen (even with a lot CTRL-+), what do you mean? And what language is transcribed there? Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 11:49
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    @jk-ReinstateMonica Which syllable the /ʃ/ is associated with.
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 17:05
  • @curiousdannii what do you mean? why do you think I blame anyone?
    – Hey
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 10:40

3 Answers 3


IPA doesn't make that decision. However, conventionally, stress is marked at the beginning of the syllable. The implication of transcribing the word as [gəˈʃtɔlt] is that the onset of the stressed syllable is [ʃt], not just [t]. If /t/ were at the beginning of a stressed syllable, it would be aspirated, thus *[gəʃˈtʰɔlt], which is wrong. Lack of aspiration established syllabification, hence position of the stress mark.


user6726's answer explains nicely what it means to have the stress marker in that position (it shows where the syllables are divided). But if your question was less "what does this notation mean" and more "why did the transcriber choose to break syllables there, instead of between the consonants"…

There's a phonological maxim called the "Maximum Onset Principle", which says that if there's ever any ambiguity about how syllables should be divided, as many consonants as possible should be put in the syllable onset (and as few as possible in the coda).

Since /ʃt/ is a valid syllable onset in English (showing up mostly in Germanic loanwords like "shtick"), whoever did this transcription chose to follow the Maximum Onset Principle and group the /ʃ/ into the onset of the second syllable instead of the coda of the first.

(How well the Maximum Onset Principle actually works in practice, and how exactly we should define a "syllable" in the first place, is a whole other can of worms.)

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    I upvoted user6726's answer but not this one because I think the concept of the "Maximum Onset Principle" is not very useful unless you're trying to learn about the history of linguistic analyses. I haven't encountered even one example of a language where it actually is clearly the most convincing analysis; German and English clearly do not follow it (e.g. "Wunschtraum" divides into the syllables /vʊnʃ/ and /tʁaʊm/, not /vʊn/ and /ʃtʁaʊm/). Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 5:00
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    @ewawe Wunschtraum is no argument against the MOP since there’s no ambiguity. Morpheme (and especially lexeme) boundaries always trump phonological ambiguity. Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 11:42
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    @ewawe MOP, as far as I know, does not apply to all languages. In English and German, transparent lexeme boundaries are followed if possible. Whether or not to maximise an onset is only a question when there are more than one possible way to syllabify; with a lexeme boundary, there isn’t. There is a very small subset of cases in (British) English where a non-lexemic syllabification is possible as an alternative (at all, it is > a tall, ’tis), but they can be considered lexicalised as such. Also, do we even know how CL syllabified such words? Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 20:51
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    @ewawe Or to put it differently: in languages where MOP applies, the order of syllabification rules would normally go (1) lexeme boundaries, (2) morpheme boundaries, (3) maximum available onset. Even if you accept German as a MOP-adherent language, you wouldn’t expect Wunschtraum to syllabify any other way than Wunsch|traum. Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 20:54
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: Latin syllabification rules are inferred from the weight of syllables in poetry, using the criterion that a light syllable is a syllable ending in a short vowel. Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 21:54

Either in German or English, that's where the syllables break, so that's where the accent mark goes. It's ge stalt, not ges talt or gest alt

  • Welcome to Linguistics! This post would benefit from adding further details. Being a one-line post, it may attract downvotes and criticism. Please edit it to add further relevant information — preferably with references to credible sources. Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 19:57

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