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Segmental Features Between Arabic And English

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2228 words Published: 15th May 2017

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This assignment is a complement to the first assignment titled as comparative and contrastive description of segmental features between the Arabic and English languages. In this assignment, differently, the light will be shed on comparative and contrastive description of suprasegmental features between the above-mentioned languages. Ellery, et al. (1995) indicated that ”features of spoken languages which are not identified as discrete segments are variously referred as prosodic features, non- segmental features or suprasegmental features” (p.327). Ellery, et al. (1995) also stated that prosody refers to prosodic features of speech, namely, tone, stress, intonation and others. Thus, three prosodic features will be discussed to show the similarities and differences between English and Arabic. Besides, the focus will be shifted to identifying the problems the Arab learners often face in learning English in terms of prosody.


1.1 Syllable Structure

Reima (2007) stated that Arabic language has three syllable types. These are summarized as follows:

1- Super heavy syllables CVVC & CVCC. The super heavy syllable consists of one consonant immediately followed by one or two vowels and end in one or two consonants as in:

2- Heavy syllables CVC & CVV. The heavy syllable consists of one consonant immediately followed by one or two vowels as in:

3- Light syllable: CV. The light syllable consists of a consonant immediately followed by one short vowel as in:

Reima (2007) asserted that formation of syllables is regular in the Arabic language. In addition, it is not typical to find any syllable in the Arabic language starts with V or CC.

1.2 Stress

According to Reima (2007) & Watson (2007) the Arabic language has three word stress levels. These are the primary, secondary and weak levels. Swan & Smith (2001), Reima (2007) indicated that stress in the Arabic language is predictable and regular. In other words, one can predict or determine the stress of the Arabic words. Swan & Smith (2001) stated that Arab learners face difficulty in predicting stress in the English language, particularly in word stress. The difficulty of grasping word stress in English may result in altering the meaning of the word. For instance, a learner may pronounce the verb (con’vict) as the noun (‘convict) where the stress position is completely different. Reima (2007) summarized the Arabic stress as follows:

1- If a word contains one super heavy syllable or more, stress falls on the last super heavy syllable as in:

2- If a word contains heavy and light syllables, stress falls on the heavy syllable before the final syllable (non‐final heavy syllable) as in:

3- If a word contains light syllables, stress falls on the first syllable as in:

4- If a word is a present or a past verb, stress falls on the first syllable as in:

5- If a word is a masculine or feminine Arabic noun, stress falls on the second syllable as in:

1.3 Intonation

According to Swan & Smith (2001) Arabic and English have closely similar intonation patterns, especially in meaning and contour. Reima (2007) summarized the Arabic stress as follows:

1- In Arabic, falling intonation is used at the end of:

Declarative statements: the voice starts on amid pitch, rises slightly on the last stressed syllable and drop to a low pitch at the end as in:

In commands as in:

In Wh‐questions: voice is high in stressed syllable and falls quickly to mid pitch for the rest of the sentence as in:

2- In Arabic, rising‐falling intonation is normally used at the end of:

Yes‐no questions as in:

In utterances containing an element of protest or surprise: voice is flat, no rise no fall as in:

In vocatives as in:

In requests: the voice rises and falls somewhat, with an optional pause as in:

1.4 Rhythm

In speech, rhythm has been defined as an effect involving the isochronous recurrence of some type of speech unit (Pike (1945), Abercrombie (1967), Bloch (1950). Dauer (1983) argued that the perception of different types of rhythm has mainly to do with differences in syllable structure, vowel reduction and types of stress. As to Arabic, according to Barkat et al. (1999) Arabic and its various dialects are all stress-timed. Based on the articles I have read, there is a consensus among researchers that Arabic listeners make use of speech rhythm to distinguish between speakers. For instance, Barkat et al. (1999) revealed that speakers of Arabic, due to rhythm, can distinguish between speakers of Arabic from North Africa and speakers living in the Middle East. Many studies have been conducted on Arabic rhythm. One of the important findings is the highness if vocalic intervals in the eastern Arabic dialects such as Palestine than western Arabic dialects such as Tunisia.

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2.1 Syllable Structure

According to Deterding & poedjosoedarmo (1998) the distinction between light and heavy syllables can be helpful in predicting stress in English. The former contains a diphthong and/or several consonants in the coda while the latter contains a single short vowel. Heavy syllables tend to be stressed and light ones tend not to be stressed. The relationship between syllables and stress is extremely related. Deterding & poedjosoedarmo (1998) argued there are not pure rules that help learners accurately predict stress placement in multisyllabic words; however, knowing the syllable structures- heavy and light syllables may solve the problem and prove useful. All in all, understanding stress rules in English entails understanding syllable structures first. English words are different in terms of the number of syllables. Some contain one, or two. Some may contain three or four. Some examples are provided below:

2.2 Stress

Chomsky and Halle (1968) suggested that stress, like the Arabic language within English words is predictable, and several sets of complex rules have been proposed for predicting stress. Stress is very important in English as it is a major feature that distinguishes certain pairs of words. According to Christophersen (1996), English has the following stress rules:

The great majority of two‐syllable words are stressed on the first syllable, e.g.:

A number of words have two different stress patterns according to whether they are verbs or nouns, adjectives or verbs e.g.:

Noticeably, nouns and adjectives are stressed on the first syllable while verbs are given stress on the second syllable.

According to Deterding & poedjosoedarmo (1998) derivational suffixes ca be classified into three types: stress-preserving, stress-attracting and stress-shifting. The first type does not change stress placement in words such as -ful, as in ‘wonder/ ‘wonderful. The second type receives primary stress such as -ee, as in em’ploy/ emply’ee. The last type make the stress shift such as -ive, as in ‘reflex/ re’flexive. The analysis of suffixation on stress placement is outlined below:

When a suffix is added to a word, the new form is stressed on the syllable as was the basic word, e.g.:

words ending in ‐tion , ‐sion , ‐ic , ‐ical, ‐ity , almost always have primary stress on the syllable preceding the ending , e.g. :

If a word ending in ‐ate or ‐ment has only two syllables, the stress falls on the last syllable if the word is a verb, but on the first syllable if the word is a noun or an adjective. When stressed , the ending is pronounced [eɪt], [mənt] ; when unstressed, it is pronounced [ t], [mənt], e.g. :

If a word ending in ‐ate, ‐ment has more than two syllables, the main stress will fall on the third syllable from the end. In verbs, the final syllable is pronounced [eɪt] , [mənt]; in nouns it is pronounced [ t], [mənt] , e.g.:

Stress placement is also affected by compounding. “When two roots are combined to produce new words, the resulting word is called a compound” (Deterding & poedjosoedarmo 1998 (p. 100). The rules are summarized below:

compound nouns have a primary stress on the first component, e.g.:

In compound verbs, the primary stress falls on the second component, e.g.:

In the intensive‐reflexive pronouns, the stronger accent falls on the last syllable ,e.g.:

Numbers ending in ‐teen may receive primary stress on either syllable, e.g.:

In words ending in ‐ion, ‐sive, the stress falls on the last vowel before the ending .e.g.:

The majority of English compounds have single stress .e.g.:

All compounds with a present participle, as the first element, have a single stress, e.g.:

A double stress is used in compounds of two nouns, if the first noun indicates the material of which or with which the second is made, e. g.:

A double stress is used in compounds that have two nouns, each noun indicates a distinct characteristic of the same person or thing, e.g. :

In most sentences, some words are more important than others and we indicate this by the way we stress or unstress them. The following words are usually unstressed: articles: a, an, the, prepositions such as at etc. personal pronouns such as I etc. possessive adjectives such as my etc. relative pronouns such as who etc. conjunctions such as and etc.

The following words are usually stressed: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, demonstrative interrogatives, e.g.: He shall send it to you. She cooks three meals each day. In an hour, he will be ready to send it. This new car is to be barked here.

2.3 Intonation

Roach (2001) pointed out that intonation is difficult to define. Generally, intonation is the ‘melody of speech’ and is to be analyzed in terms of variations of pitch. It is known that intonation can indicate different types of utterances, such as statements, questions, commands, attitudes and emotions of the speaker. Reima (2007) summarized the intonation rules as follows:

A) In English, rising‐falling intonation is normally used at the end of:

Simple statements of facts (declarative statements), e.g.:


Questions which begin with an interrogative word, i.e.,

B) In English, rising intonation is normally used in the following cases:

At the end of yes‐no questions:

In requests:

C) In utterances containing an element of protest or surprise:

2.3 Rhythm

English, with an alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, is obviously stress-timed. Deterding & poedjosoedarmo (1998) stated that rhythm is important in English because many cases of miscommunication can be attributed to failure to interpret familiar words as they are uttered with an unfamiliar rhythm pattern. For example, the speaker may say ”talking to themselves” stressing on talk and them. If a native speaker hears these words, he will misunderstand the words and interpret them as ‘taking to damsels’. So, the unexpected rhythm pattern contributed to misunderstanding. As stated above, English words may contain one or more syllables. These words contain syllables (stressed) that are louder, clearer than others (unstressed). Gilbert (1984) believed that the combination of these stressed and unstressed syllables results in the rhythm found in English words. This combination also shows the strength, length and pitch of syllables. Moreover, sentences in English, like words, have rhythm. Dauer, (1993) argued that if one wants to have good sentence rhythm, she/he needs to know how to join syllables together into larger unites besides the clear difference between stressed and unstressed syllables.

Problems in learning English in terms of prosody

Arab learners find it easy to grasp the predictable word stress in their language; however, they face problems in grasping the unpredictable nature of English word stress.

Sentence rhythm is alike in both languages so that Arab learners avoid contracted forms and elision when they read loudly. As a result, heavy staccato rhythm can be found in their reading.

Regarding intonation, Swan & Smith (2001) found out that Arab learners tend to intone, reducing intonation to a low fall at the ends of phrases and sentences.

According to Rababah, (2002) Arab learners face problems that are related to stress, intonation and other features of prosody due to some difference in pronunciation between the two languages.

English word pattern with (-ism) suffix receive their stress on the antepenultimate or pre- antepenultimate syllable, but they never receive it on the penultimate or final syllable. Quite contrary to this, in the pronunciation of the Arab learners of English, it is often noticed that stress in such word patterns tend to be consistently shifted to the penultimate (before the final) syllable.

According to Ryan & Meara (1999) Arab learners confuse English words due to the number of syllables and the shift of stress syllables as in the following example:


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