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On the replicator dynamics of lexical stress: accounting for stress-pattern diversity in terms of evolutionary game theory*

  • Andreas Baumann (a1) and Nikolaus Ritt (a1)

This paper accounts for stress-pattern diversity in languages such as English, where words that are otherwise equivalent in terms of phonotactic structure and morphosyntactic category can take both initial and final stress, as seen in ˈlentilhoˈtel, ˈenvoydeˈgree, ˈresearch Nreˈsearch N and ˈaccess Vacˈcess V. Addressing the problem in general and abstract terms, we identify systematic conditions under which stress-pattern diversity becomes stable. We hypothesise that words adopt stress patterns that produce, on average, the best possible phrase-level rhythm. We model this hypothesis in evolutionary game theory, predict that stress-pattern diversity among polysyllabic word forms depends on the frequency of monosyllables and demonstrate how that prediction is met both in Present-Day English and in its history.

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For constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper we owe thanks to Donka Minkova, Elan Dresher, Heinz Giegerich, Kenny Smith and Simon Kirby, three anonymous reviewers and the editors of Phonology. Obviously, any remaining errors are ours.

The appendices mentioned in the paper are available as online supplementary materials at

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Supplementary materials

Baumann and Ritt supplementary material
Appendices A-B

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