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An account of Old English stress1

  • C. B. McCully (a1) and R. M. Hogg (a1)

The phenomenon of stress in Old English (OE) has been the subject of thorough and extensive study for well over a century. Indeed the foundation for any modern study remains the work of Eduard Sievers (1885, 1893a, b), well summarized in Campbell (1959). The present paper is not concerned with a revision of the ‘facts’ of Sievers' account, although we shall note below instances where we disagree with those facts, but rather with a linguistic explanation of those facts. Sievers' account is essentially a statistical presentation of varying stress patterns, and he made little attempt to provide explanations of either frequent patterns, or non-existent ones. The framework in which we shall operate is that of lexicalist metrical phonology. Within that framework we shall attempt to demonstrate that Old English stress was organized in a way very different from that in Modern English. Most particularly we shall suggest that there is a central rule (the Old English Stress Rule = OESR) which, in contrast to the central rule for present-day English (PDE), operated from left-to-right. This, we shall suggest, has direct implications for the operation of other features of stress derivations, such as Destressing. Further, we shall argue that it is probable that level-ordering has no role to play in the stress phonology of Old English.

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