Synonyms and superordinates

Another important point to be made is that, as far as deaccentuation is concerned, synonyms, near-synonyms and other related words, such as superordinates, count as repetitions. Therefore, they are customarily left out of focus. This can be seen in the following examples.

In (20), professor Judith Hawley, from the University of London, talks about Lawrence Sterne’s ancestry.

(20) sound_loud_speaker He can’t explain himself without explaining his family. / It’s also related to where the Sterne(s) come from. / He comes from his literary forebears (Judith Hawley; Royal Holloway University of London)

The speaker first mentions Sterne’s family, then she refers to where Sterne or the Sternes –it is not very clear- come from and lastly she uses the word forebears­, which has not been uttered before but has the same meaning, viz. ancestors. So, since this last noun is synonymous with previous words, she deaccents it and places the focus on the adjective which modifies it, literary.

Now, let’s find out how Irish writer Colm Toibin considers his own country’s food in relation to Spanish food, and how he expresses this notion.

(21) sound_loud_speaker I didn’t, honestly, didn’t know that you could love food until I went to Spain. I thought you had just to eat the bloody stuff… (Colm Toibin; Enniscorthy, Ireland).

Here the nominal phrase the bloody stuff is left out of focus because it is used as a synonym for food[1].

Sometimes the deaccented word is not a synonym but a superordinate –also called hypernym-, that is, a more general word normally belonging to a superior category within a semantic classification. Let’s see two cases of this type. The first one features American writer Philip Roth elaborating about one of his works.

(22) sound_loud_speaker The strongest fact in this book (…) and what determines so much of the action is that he has prostate cancer[2]. Well, fortunately for me, I’ve never had this illness (Philip Roth; Newark, US).

Roth explains that a certain character in one of his books suffers from prostate cancer and then, to avoid the usual annoying confusion between fact and fiction, goes on to clarify that he personally has never had this illness. Since cancer –the hyponym- is a type of illness –the hypernym-, the noun phrase this illness is deaccented in favour of the preceding verb, had.

A similar example can be found in the following dialogue extracted from the comedy Fraser. Fraser brags about his son playing soccer, as he supposedly enjoyed doing in the past, and his brother Niles points out that nothing could be further from the truth.


-Niles: So, Frasier. How are you doing on your own?

-Frasier: I’m fine. I love my new life. I love the solitude. I miss Frederick like the dickens, of course. You know, he’s quite a boy. He’s playing goalie on the Peewee soccer team now. Ha, he’s a chip off the old block!

-Niles: You hated sports.

-Frasier: So does he!

(David Hyde Pierce; New York, US / Kelsey Grammer; Virgin Islands, US).

Niles doesn’t place the accent on the last lexical word, sports, but on the previous one, hated. The reason, again, is that soccer is a kind of sport and therefore the noun sports is treated as old information. And in this case, again, Niles considers old information something that has been said not by himself, but by his interlocutor. This last point –that is, the necessity of being aware of what other speakers say in an exchange in order to accent the right word- may seem obvious to an English native speaker, but it is quite far from clear to a Spanish student of English.

[1] This example also fits the kind of deaccentuation studied as objects of general reference.

[2] See also open compounds.

Previous Next