Value of Phonology

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 7
Words: 1667
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


Larry Hyman, who is the author of the report on the universality of word accent, is a linguistics professor at the University of California, where he specializes in phonology. He has an interest in the languages of the African people. Larry Hyman has carried out several award-winning types of research. He is recognized for quality and informative publications in linguistics. The report is published by the University of California in Berkley, where the author is based.

The main idea of Hyman’s story is to provide a clear argument on the controversial issue of word-level stress accent. The report tries to establish whether word-level stress accent is universally applicable in all languages. Scholars of linguistics may find this report helpful in improving their knowledge of stress and accent. This paper is a critical review of the information on whether all languages have word accent.

Summary and Description

Hyman’s report uses a simple and very persuasive approach that focuses on a broad perspective of word-level accent. It does not approach the concept of word-level articulation as understood in the traditional linguistic literature (Hyman, 2012). The report is divided into five sections focusing on forty-nine items that look at the relationship between word stress and accent besides addressing the issue of universality of accent.

The first section, which is an introductory section, handles the initial four items. It introduces the critical issues that the report addresses. Hyman begins his report with a definition of word accent and differentiates it from word stress in terms of detail and description. He states that since all languages have word stress, they must have a word accent.

In the second section, Hyman deals with the definition of stress accent. He also handles the traditional definition of what makes up a stress accent system. Under item number five, he provides eight evident characteristics of a stress system. Hyman gives a description of a stress system that looks a lot like English then goes ahead to justify why metrical stress is obvious in English.

Afterward, the report looks at three different approaches that can be used to define a stress accent. The first method (phonetic method) is about the phonetic expression of stress and concentrates on the outlook and the intensity of the stressed syllables. The second approach proposed by the report is the functionality method, which centers on the communicative intentions that cause stress accent. The final process is the formal technique that focuses on stress using its structural characteristics. To determine the universality of a stress accent, the author makes a list of nine factors that make a stress accent authoritative. He adds that a stress system that violates any of the items listed is non-authoritative and cannot claim universality.

The third section of the report looks at languages that do not follow the conditions outlined in section two. It starts by listing five requirements that an authoritative language needs to meet. However, Hyman admits that there are some languages that only satisfy a section of the set conditions. Using Kinga, a Bantu language, as an example, the author looks at some of the problems that are noticed as one tries to apply these principles to such a language.

He then introduces a distinction between pitch accent and stress accent. He refers to pitch accent as that which meets part of the properties of stress accent or demonstrates a collection of properties linked to the ones listed. Hyman supports a property-driven classification approach, which he believes avoids the labeling of languages and instead focuses on categorizing based on individual properties. This approach aims at establishing the extent to which specific properties of a language are related to the true definition of stress accent.

The author then gives examples of cases where specific languages lack word stress. He also identifies other problems that come up when trying to attain universality of word accent. This section mainly looks at issues that arise when comparing the standard properties of pitch and duration (vowel length) with word accent. In the remaining areas (four and five), Hyman presents an argument on the universality or specificity of word accent.


In general terms, an accent is a unique manner of speaking a language, particularly one linked to a specific country, region, or social class. The way each person uses the sound system is unique. Most people modify the way they speak in tune with others close to them. Scholars of phonology call this pronunciation accent. Accent includes a blend of consonants, vowels, and other features of speech like length, tempo, emphasis, tone, and loudness (Riad & Gussenhoven, 2007).

There are basically two types of accent. One type is the first language accent, which symbolizes the way different people utter words in their local languages (Yavas, 2006). Such variations are influenced by the geographical environment of a person and the social group to which they belong. The other type is a foreign accent and arises when people learn to speak languages other than their native tongue (Moyer, 2013). Therefore, stress is either categorized as a stress accent or dynamic accent (Moyer, 2004).

This report generates various fascinating observations on the theoretical management of stress. I agree with Hyman’s property driven classification that bases most academic work about word stress on descriptions learned from grammar. The author indeed attains his goal of showing the reader in a series of well-laid arguments what he means by the universality of accent and if they are indeed universal. The report is clearly written and easy to comprehend for someone who wants to increase their understanding of stress accent and classification in phonology.

The main linguistic features of prosody are pitch, duration, and loudness. A careful analysis of native speech reveals that there is approximately seventy percent of sentences possess pitch variances (Everaert, Musgrave &Dimitriadis, 2009). Hyman gives a professional distinction between pitch accent and word-level stress accent. In this regard, the report satisfactorily compares to other literature of its nature and can be useful as a complementary material to be used alongside other scholarly works. Hyman certainly demonstrates why he is considered an authority in phonology and why his studies of African languages are highly recommended for students of linguistics and scholars.

Following a string of insightful approaches, Xu argues that there is no specific universal form for the intonation of an utterance (2001). Therefore, the superficial F0 declination is influenced by the role of various sources, for instance, the variance produced by L tone. The superficial F0 declination is also influenced by a new topic or focusing on the utterance. The relationship between accent and such intonation can be explored by assessing the influence of placing the word accent on the down-step of intonation.

It can also be explored by looking at the integration of pronunciation and intonation. This comparative approach is well elaborated in Hyman’s report. Shih (2001) notes from her study on a collection of sentence syllables that the initial sentences have higher F0 values and pitch levels compared to the later ones. Her research assumes that accent and intrinsic F0 in vowels are universal in all languages.

Word accent is global and tongue-specific to any language. According to Gussenhoven, such universality is found in the paralinguistic meanings of pitch deviation (2004). Hyman’s report shows that specificity lies in the importance attached to words of different languages. Some languages merge stress accent and pitch accent in such a way that the stressed syllables with an accent can possess a number of tones, whereas unstressed syllables do not have a tone. A case of such pitch accent is evident within the Serbo-Croatian accent.

The comparative methods employed by Hyman when looking at word stress and word accent in different languages help in understanding the universal or specific nature of word accent. Languages such as Chinese and Turkish introduce additional platforms in looking at universality. In Chinese, a word consists not only of consonants and vowels but also the pitch with which it is spoken. This suggests that a syllable like ‘ma’ said with a high rise is very different from the one spoken in a low pitch in mandarin. The first instance has the meaning of mother, while the second means hemp. The same syllable, when spoken with a high falling tone, means to scold.

However, the fact that most of the languages Hyman uses as examples are Bantu limits the scope of his report. A report of this nature aimed at establishing universality ought to include additional models of different categories of languages. Nevertheless, it is understandable why Hyman prefers the use of Bantu languages as examples since his research mainly specializes in African languages.

It is important to distinguish between pitch accent and word-level stress. Pitch accent is not globally established in all stress languages. Although the Wolof language has word-level stress, it does not have a phrase-level pitch accent on the stressed syllables (Rialland & Robert, 2001).

The general definition of stress adopted by Hyman in items seven and eight gives a clear direction of his viewpoint regarding the concept. He proposes that a stress system is essential and cumulative and must possess a syllable or syllables. This definition provides an understanding of what qualifies as a stress system, thereby avoiding ambiguity. Hyman also makes an important point that a lexical word has only one stress. Apart from its clarity, the report organizes its points coherently, and all the thoughts are well illustrated.


An enhanced understanding of this report requires one to follow Hyman’s other writings on the subject as well as those of other authorities on stress and accent. Although a comprehensive classification for addressing the universality of word-level accent has not been formulated, Hyman’s work certainly makes an important contribution to the body of literature that is useful in this endeavor. His approach is easy to comprehend and apply to other phonology studies. Consequently, the value of this report to phonology must not be underestimated, and the material should be recommended for the study of linguistics.