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Since stress can be realised through a wide range of phonetic properties, such as loudness, vowel length, and pitch, which are also used for other linguistic functions, it is difficult to define stress solely phonetically.
The stress placed on syllables within words is called word stress or lexical stress. Some languages have fixed stress , meaning that the stress on virtually any multisyllable word falls on a particular syllable, such as the penultimate e.
Polish or the first. Other languages, like English and Russian , have variable stress , where the position of stress in a word is not predictable in that way. Sometimes more than one level of stress, such as primary stress and secondary stress , may be identified. However, some languages, such as French and Mandarin , are sometimes analyzed as lacking lexical stress entirely.
The stress placed on words within sentences is called sentence stress or prosodic stress. This is one of the three components of prosody , along with rhythm and intonation. There are various ways in which stress manifests itself in the speech stream, and these depend to some extent on which language is being spoken. Stressed syllables are often louder than non-stressed syllables, and may have a higher or lower pitch. They may also sometimes be pronounced longer. There are sometimes differences in place or manner of articulation — in particular, vowels in unstressed syllables may have a more central or " neutral " articulation, while those in stressed syllables have a more peripheral articulation.
Stress may be realized to varying degrees on different words in a sentence; sometimes the difference between the acoustic signals of stressed and unstressed syllables are minimal. These particular distinguishing features of stress, or types of prominence in which particular features are dominant, are sometimes referred to as particular types of accent — dynamic accent in the case of loudness, pitch accent in the case of pitch although this term usually has more specialized meanings , quantitative accent in the case of length,  and qualitative accent in the case of differences in articulation.
These can be compared to the various types of accent in music theory. In some contexts, the term stress or stress accent is used to mean specifically dynamic accent or as an antonym to pitch accent in its various meanings. A prominent syllable or word is said to be accented or tonic ; the latter term does not imply that it carries phonemic tone.
Other syllables or words are said to be unaccented or atonic. Syllables are frequently said to be in pretonic or post-tonic position; certain phonological rules apply specifically to such positions. In Mandarin Chinese , which is a tone language , stressed syllables have been found to have tones realized with a relatively large swing in fundamental frequency , while unstressed syllables typically have smaller swings.
Stressed syllables are often perceived as being more forceful than non-stressed syllables. Research has shown, however, that although dynamic accent is accompanied by greater respiratory force, it does not mean a more forceful articulation in the vocal tract. Lexical stress, or word stress , is the stress placed on a given syllable in a word.
The position of lexical stress in a word may depend on certain general rules applicable in the language or dialect in question, but in other languages, it must be learned for each word, as it is largely unpredictable. Languages in which position of the stress can usually be predicted by a simple rule are said to have fixed stress. For example, in Czech , Finnish , Icelandic and Hungarian , the stress almost always comes on the first syllable of a word.
In Armenian the stress is on the last syllable of a word. In Macedonian , it is on the antepenult third-last syllable. Other languages have stress placed on different syllables but in a predictable way, as in Classical Arabic and Latin whose stress is conditioned by the structure of the penult. They are said to have a regular stress rule. Statements about the position of stress are sometimes affected by the fact that when a word is spoken in isolation, prosodic factors see below come into play, which do not apply when the word is spoken normally within a sentence.
French words are sometimes said to be stressed on the final syllable, but that can be attributed to the prosodic stress that is placed on the last syllable unless it is a schwa , when it is the second-last of any string of words in that language. Thus, it is on the last syllable of a word analyzed in isolation. The situation is similar in Standard Chinese. French some authors add Chinese  can be considered to have no real lexical stress.
Languages in which the position of stress in a word is less predictable are said to have variable stress like English , Russian , Italian , Portuguese and Spanish. Stress is usually truly lexical and must be memorized as part of the pronunciation of an individual word.
In some languages, such as in Spanish, in Portuguese, in Lakota and, to some extent in Italian, stress is even represented in writing using diacritical marks, for example in the Spanish words c é lebre and celebr é. In Russian, diacritical marks are sometimes written for people learning the language, whether as a first or second language.
In such languages with variable stress , stress may be phonemic in that it can serve to distinguish otherwise identical words. For example, the English words insight and incite are distinguished in pronunciation only by the fact that the stress falls on the first syllable in the former and on the second syllable in the latter.
Other examples include um schreiben "rewrite" vs. Dialects of the same language may have different stress placement. The Spanish word video is stressed on the first syllable in Spain vídeo but on the second syllable in the Americas vidéo.
Some languages are described as having both primary stress and secondary stress. A syllable with secondary stress is stressed relative to unstressed syllables but not as strongly as a syllable with primary stress.
As with primary stress, the position of secondary stress may be more or less predictable depending on language.
In English, it is not fully predictable: In some analyses, for example the one found in Chomsky and Halle's The Sound Pattern of English , English has been described as having four levels of stress: Peter Ladefoged and other phoneticians have noted that it is possible to describe English with only one degree of stress, as long as unstressed syllables are phonemically distinguished for vowel reduction.
For further detail see Stress and vowel reduction in English. Prosodic stress , or sentence stress , refers to stress patterns that apply at a higher level than the individual word — namely within a prosodic unit. It may involve a certain natural stress pattern characteristic of a given language, but may also involve the placing of emphasis on particular words because of their relative importance contrastive stress.
An example of a natural prosodic stress pattern is that described for French above; stress is placed on the final syllable of a string of words or if that is a schwa , the next-to-final syllable. A word spoken alone becomes such a phrase, hence such prosodic stress may appear to be lexical if the pronunciation of words is analyzed in a standalone context rather than within phrases.