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5.19: Strong and Weak Vowel Sounds

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Strong and Weak Vowel Sounds

1. When a word has more than one vowel sound, usually we do not pronounce all the vowels with the same loudness. The loudness that a vowel sound has in a word is called its stress.

Sometimes we pronounce a vowel sound very softly. When we do,that vowel has weak stress.

Sometimes we pronounce a vowel sound very loudly. That vowel has strong stress.

When we want to show that a vowel sound has strong stress, we put this mark over it, like this: a´.

For instance, to show that the strong stress in the word famous is on the first vowel sound, we would mark it this way: fa´mous.

2. In the four words below the strong stress is on the first vowel sound, and the weak stress is on the second vowel sound. Mark the strong stress in each word:


3. In the four words below the strong stress is on the second vowel sound, and the weak stress is on the first vowel sound. Mark the strong stress in each word:


4. Mark the strong stress in these words:


5. Combine each suffix with its free stem. Some combine by simple addition, some with final <e> deletion, some with twinning. Be sure to show any changes that occur. Then mark the strong stress in the longer word you make:

Free Stem + Suffix = Word
search + es = se´arches
valley + s = va´lleys
write + er = wri´ter
fail + ing = fa´iling
stop + p + ed = sto´pped
scratch + er = scra´tcher
trust + ed = tru´sted
ice + ing = i´cing
mad + d + est = ma´ddest
succeed + s = succe´eds
cute + er = cu´ter
sense + es = se´nses
problem + s = pro´blems
effort + s = e´fforts
make + ing = ma´king
roast + ed = ro´asted

word Pyramid. All of the words in this Pyramid must contain the letter <e>.

If you rearrange the letters in search, you can spell three other six-letter words. How many can you figure out?


Teaching Notes.

1. Some linguists recognize four levels of stress in English; some recognize only three. Most dictionaries recognize three: primary, secondary, and weak (or no stress). For our purposes in the Basic Speller we only need to speak in terms of two levels: strong and weak. Strong means either the primary or the secondary stress recognized bydictionaries. Weak means not having either primary or secondary stress.

2. Students often have trouble at first identifying which vowel sound in a word has strong stress. You may find it difficult at times, too, for even though any native speaker of English can tell immediately if a word is stressed incorrectly, it can be surprisingly difficult to describe exactly where the stress is in the word. It is a little, perhaps, like trying to describe how one turns on and off the vocal cords in creating voiceless and voiced sounds, as with the two different sounds at the beginning of sip and zip: We turn those cords on and off correctly thousands of times a day, but describing when we do it can be difficult, and describing how to do it is well nigh impossible. So indecision about where the stress is in a word should be expected.

Fortunately students seem to develop the ability to identify where the stress is rather quickly, after just a bit of practice. It is a good opportunity for group oral drill. Pronounce words with two vowel sounds for the students and ask them where the stress is – on the first or the second vowel sound. If they have trouble, exaggerate the stress difference within the word. In hard cases you can really exaggerate the difference, with the exaggeratedly heavy stress first on one vowel sound and exaggeratedly weak stress on the other. Then do the same thing the other way around. This exaggerated contrast will produce some grotesque-sounding pronunciations. Then ask the students which of the two versions sounds less grotesque. That less grotesque-sounding version will have the stress more clearly, if exaggeratedly, on the correct vowel sound. As they grow more confident, cut back on the exaggeration so that they are hearing words with their normal stress differences.

If your students have a good grasp of the concept of syllables, the discussion of stress can be given in terms of syllables rather than vowel sounds. But if your students do not have a good grasp of syllables, I would recommend speaking in terms of vowel sounds, as the lesson does (and as our discussion so far has also done). The term syllable can be handy, but it also can produce problems. The problems are not so much with counting the syllables, since each syllable contains one and only one vowel sound. The problems concern where to draw the dividing lines between syllables. The general rule is that if there is only one consonant sound between two vowel sounds, that consonant goes with the second vowel sound. If there are two consonant sounds between two vowel sounds, the first normally goes with the first vowel sound and the second with the second vowel sound. This principle underlies the notion of open and closed syllables and of the distinction between long and short vowels as reflected in the VCV and VCC patterns. But in fact the business of drawing dividing lines between syllables can get quite complex, which is why the Basic Speller speaks to the students quite consistently in terms of vowel sounds rather than syllables.

It is easier at first if you pick two-syllable words that have one syllable with primary (or strongest) stress and one syllable that is unstressed, rather than words that have one primary stress and one secondary. It is simply easier to hear the difference between primary and weak stress than it is between primary and secondary. For the most part, this means picking words that consist of a base and a suffix or prefix rather than compound words: The difference in stress is easier to hear in, say, blacker (black + er), which has heavy stress on the first syllable and an unstressed second syllable, than it is in a compound like blackbird (black + bird), which has primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the second, as compounds usually do.

Since English likes to put the strong stress as close to the front of a word as possible (usually on the first syllable of the base and sometimes even on the prefix), most twosyllable words in English have strong stress on the first syllable. The big exception is verbs, which usually have stress on the second syllable. That is why we have a number of noun-verb pairs in English that have stress on the first syllable of the noun (like próduce) but on the second syllable of the verb (like prodúce).

If you are ever uncertain about where the stress is in a word, check in a dictionary. And at some point it is a good idea to have the students doing some work with word-stress in their dictionaries as well. So it is important that they understand how their dictionariesmark stress. The marking system used there may be different from the one used here, but the end results should be the same.

After the students get fairly confident at finding the stress in two-syllable words, you can move them on to three- and four-syllable ones and to two-syllable compounds.

This is also a good time to have the youngsters work, if possible, with some metrical verse. Assuming the verse is not all monosyllables, it can give them some practice with word-stress. There is a reciprocity here, for the work with word-stress in the spelling class can help the students better hear and appreciate the metrical and rhythmic effects in poetry.

Word Pyramid. Search contains letters for the following shorter words that contain the letter <a>: 5-letters: aches, acres, cares, chars, chase, crash, hares, races, reach, rheas,scare, share, shear; 4-letters: aces, ache, acre, arch, arcs, cars, care, case, cash, char, each, ears, hare, hear, race, rase, rash, rhea, scar, sear, sera; 3-letters: ace, arc, are, ash, car, ear, era, has, rah, sac, sea ; 2-letters: ah, ar, as.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
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Jul 07, 2015
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