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What are the roots of English intonation?

2016/01/08


In English there are two ways of accenting words.

For example, the word wonder, with its intonation at the beginning (WON-der). But if a suffix is added then you get wonderful (WON-der-ful), and the intonation doesn't change, it stays at the beginning. But, take the word modern (MO-dern) and add a suffix, then the accent is pulled back towards the middle of the word becoming (mo-DERN-ity), and not (MO-dern-ity).


"Knowing the history might help your students"


The accent remains the same with (CHEER-y) and (CHEER-i-ly). But again shifts with the word (PER-sonal) and (person-AL-ity).


Why is that? It's because  -ful and -ly are Germanic endings, while -ity comes from French and Latin, which pull the accent closer to the end of the word. Such as with (TEM-pest) becoming (tem-PEST-uous) - while a Germanic suffix leaves the accent alone.


Maybe you've never noticed this aspect of English, but it might trip up your English students, and it's difficult to know the why and how of where this feature of English without knowing where it came from. There are many convoluted rules to try and explain it, but knowing the history might help ground those rules with context for your students.

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