5 Contrasting Spanish and English: placement of nuclear stress
Spanish has a very strong tendency to put the nuclear accent on the last content word of the intonational phrase (remember that nuclear accent is not the highest point in the intonation contour), while in English it can appear on nonfinal words in many cases. Also, it is this final position in the sentence where new information is typically placed in Spanish. (What follows is based on Hualde 2005, pp. 257-260.)
It is important to make students aware of this syntactic characteristic of Spanish. Look at the following short dialogues and try to translate them into English.
- ¿Quién viene mañana? - Mañana viene mi herMAno.
- ¿Cuándo viene tu hermano? - Mi hermano viene maÑAna.
In cases where the whole proposition conveys new information (so it could be the answer to the question what happened?), other morphosyntactic rules will determine word-order (these fall outside the scope of this course).
- ¿Qué ha pasado? - Ha llegado el tren. (verb-subject)
- ¿Qué ha pasado? - La enfermera salvó al paciente. (subject-verb-object)
- ¿Qué pasa? - Me encanta el chocolate. (indirect object-verb-subject)
In the following sections, you will see several contexts where English and Spanish differ in the placement of nuclear accent.