Timing (linguistics) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In a syllable-timed language, every syllable takes up roughly the same amount of time when pronounced... Spanish and Japanese are examples... This metronomic rhythm is sometimes called machine-gun rhythm...

In a stress-timed language, syllables may last different amounts of time, but there is a given amount time (on average) between two consecutive stressed syllables, and that time is roughly a constant. English, German and Dutch are typical stress timed languages. Stress-timing is sometimes called Morse-code rhythm. When spoken faster, a stress-timed language usually shortens, obscures, or drops vowels to carry more syllables between two stresses without changing its rhythm so much.

This is one reason why non-native speakers sometimes speak with strange rhythms, and why people complain about English speakers swallowing sounds.

Of course these patterns can change over time or be borrowed from other languages. For example, Mexican Spanish, due to close contact with American English, shows a marked tendency towards stress timing. There are reports of Mexican people pronouncing "los Estados Unidos" as two "syllables", which actually means the speaker marks two beats or stress peaks (over /ta/ and /ni/)... Mexican Spanish under this influence shows signs of vowel shortening as well.

And it's contagious!


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