Sons et lettres: A Pronunciation Method for Intermediate-level French

96 Rhythm and Accentuation French and English differ in the ways they accentuate words and in their general rhythmic patterns. There are two basic differences. First, they differ in the position of the accent. In English, the accent can fall on any syllable in a wordandanyword ina sentence (andwhenwe learnaword inEnglish, learning which syllables are stressed is an integral part of learning its pronunciation). In French, all syllables in a word or in a phrase are unaccented except for the last one (the tonic syllable), which is accented. Second, the two languages differ in the quality of the accented syllable. In English, the accented syllable is stronger than the other syllables, while in French the tonic syllable is longer (without being stronger). In the words na tional , as sem bly , and under stand , for example, the position of the syllable stress shifts, falling respectively on the first, middle, and last syllables, and these syllables are said with greater force. In the French words assemblée , nationale , and compréhension , the accent falls—as in all French words—on the final syllable (tonic syllable), which is lengthened but not stronger. In practice, this means that the rhythmic contour of any English phrase or sentence will have a shifting accented (stronger) syllable preceded and followed by weaker, unaccented syllables. As we saw above in the section on vowel consistency, the unaccented syllables will often be schwas. In a French phrase or sentence, the rhythmic pattern consists of a series of equal, unaccented syllables ending with a longer (accented) syllable. These patterns can be shown graphically as follows: English: x X xx xx X x x X xx, etc. French: xxxx X xxx X xxxxx X xx X , etc. For the English speaker, the challenge of learning to produce a French- sounding speaking pattern lies in not imposing otherwise intuitive English patterns upon French words and phrases. To do this, remember: 1. to reserve the accent for the tonic syllable (avoid accentuating the syllables at the beginning or in the middle of a word or phrase); 2. to produce the accented syllable by lengthening it, resisting the tendency to say it with greater force; 3. to make the syllables preceding the accent of equal length.