Every speaker involved

One interesting fact about the deaccentuation of repeated words is that it applies to all the speakers involved at any given moment in the exchange. This means that, if a word has already been uttered, the next speakers acknowledge that that lexical item is now considered old information by deaccenting it whenever they have to repeat it. Thus the process can be traced in dialogues too.

(17) sound_loud_speaker 

-Who’s going to drive?

Paul’s going to drive.

Probably the most natural way of putting this in Spanish would be as follows:


¿Quién va a conducir?

Va a conducir Pablo.

So, as is usually the case, the Spanish utterance shows a different syntactic structure but the accent falls on the same noun.

In order to see how this works in a more natural environment, let’s turn to a funny dialogue from a film.



-Who are you?

-I am Nanny(a) McPhee. / Small c, / big p.

Right, / right. / The thing is… / I haven’t hired a nanny(b). / I don’t need a nanny(c). / I’m managing perfectly well. / I have never had a nanny(d) / because I don’t want a nanny(e).

-I am an army nanny(f) [1], Mrs. Green. / I have been / deployed.

(Maggie Gyllenhall; New York, US / Emma Thompson; London, UK).

The word nanny is pronounced six times in this short exchange and never, not even once, is accented. Let’s see why.

In (a) the accent is not to be expected at all because the word nanny, said by Emma Thompson, is not the last lexical item of the IP; it is just a first name of sorts followed by a surname which carries the focus [2]. So far so good, then. But now Maggie Gyllenhall gets the floor and repeats the same word in (b), (c), (d) and (e), where nanny does occupy the slot of last lexical item in all the cases. Nevertheless, in none of them it is accented. What’s happened?

The answer is that Maggie Gyllenhall deaccents all the nannies because the word has just been uttered by her interlocutor and, consequently, it is known by both speakers. Thus we get to the paradox that the most important concept in the whole conversation –everything in the scene revolves around the nanny issue- is systematically left out of focus.

[1] See open compounds.

[2] See the accentual pattern of names in open compounds.

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