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misplaced emphasis

August 18, 2017

This summer I have been regularly commuting to Greenwich on the Docklands Light Railway, a scenic route with spectacular buildings and great river-views; but my enjoyment of the journey has been a little spoilt by the recorded voice which announces the stations. She consistently gets the stress wrong, putting undue emphasis on the word is: “The next station is Bow Church… The next station is Heron Quays… The next station is Mudchute” etc etc. Every time I hear it I want to reply “I never said it wasn’t!”

The verb to be is not usually stressed, unless one is responding to a contrary view. Indeed it can often be elided: “The next station’s Canary Wharf” would sound just fine. I can’t understand why the recording gets it so wrong, especially since they could have done as many takes as they wanted. It reminds me of that awful quiz show with Anne Robinson where she used to say “You are the weakest link”, as if the contestant had been insisting they weren’t. I never understood why the producer didn’t say to her, “Look, Anne, you can emphasise any other word except that one”.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    What’s wrong with “The next stop will be…”?
    One quirk that jars with me is that some people never use “emphatic the” but always use a short “the” regardless of whether the following word starts with a vowel, so “In thuh event” rather than “In thee event”.
    Agree about the DLR. It’s a journey more people should try. Bettered only by the river boat which is a marvellous way to get to Greenwich.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    Ah, now, this is opening a rich seam. After 15 years on the same journey, I still get annoyed when my train approaches Guildford and the automated voice announces that ‘this train will shortly be arriving at Guildford’. For the train to ‘be arriving’ suggests a state of continuity, of the train approaching the station, as opposed to it actually having arrived. If the announcer says that ‘we will shortly be arriving’, this suggests that we are not yet in that state of continuous approach. So if we are not approaching the station now, what are we doing, geographically and philosophically ? Either we are approaching the station, or we will be arriving, or we will have arrived. Make your mind up. And on the irritating wrong emphasis, I want to shout at the television every time I see an American rom – com ticking down the seconds to midnight on 31 December, the clock chimes, the streamers fall from the ceiling, and everyone says ‘Happy NEW year’. Aaargh – no ! It’s not a new day, new week or new month, it’s a new YEAR for goodness’ sake.

  3. Mark Brafield permalink

    And forgot to add. On another train journey I regularly take, the announcer always says ‘if you want any help or assistance, just ask’. I always want to say ‘That is very kind. I would like some help, but I don’t need any assistance thank you’.

  4. Aikaterini Procopaki permalink

    I guess they have recorded separately the first, invariable part of the announcement (“the next station is”), to ensure that it sounds identically in all cases, and then have added the names of the stations. Hence the pause, which sounds like a stress. So it’s perhaps a matter of audio montage.

  5. A plausible theory. It does sound to me as if the word is actually stressed, ie pronounced longer and more loudly than the other words; but perhaps, as you say, I am deceived by the pause.

  6. auke permalink

    Somewhat off topic, but I have a question about words which I have heard pronounced differently, and which, as my english hairdresser has told me, is not because of regional or usa/uk differences, but because of a slightly differing meaning. He didn’t know what the exact nuances were, so I thought I’d ask you, since I have been following your excellent blog ever since I saw you on tv. (I’m dutch and live in Amsterdam and watch a lot of bbc).
    My question concerns the varying stresses in ‘incomparable’: ‘inCOMparable’ vs ‘incomPArable’, and the varying pronunciations of the ‘i’ in ‘privacy’: ‘privacy’ vs ‘praivacy’ (as in ‘pry’).
    Is my hairdresser right, and if so, could you explain the nuances in meaning?
    Thanks very much!

  7. Simon Carter permalink

    Hi Auke. Not sure if there is any difference! The examples you cite may be similar to the CONtroversy conTROversy where it comes down to personal preference. They’re not like schedule (shedule/skedule) where there is a recognised difference in pronunciation. Sorry not to be more help.

  8. Hello Auke. Yes, I agree with Simon. Personally I say inCOMparable; and I have the Compact Oxford English dictionary’s support for it. IncomPARable sounds wrong to me. But there is no difference in meaning that I’m aware of. On the privacy or pryvacy question, I think the former is the standard British English pronunciation, and the latter American; but again there is no difference in meaning.

  9. auke permalink

    Hello Simon and Brandon. Indeed, I was also wondering about controversy, so that has been solved as well now. I don’t think I’ll get back to my hairdresser about this, though, because he might think of me as a bit too pedantic and mess up my hair. Thanks!

  10. Simon Carter permalink

    Auke, here are some words which change meaning according to whether the first or second syllable is stressed: perfect, progress, present, record, object, desert, addict. Now you’ll have some conversation for your barber other than if you’ve had your holiday yet.
    I’ve been to Amsterdam many times and have always found English spoken incredibly well which is a relief because I find Dutch very difficult!

  11. One could add PRODuce (noun) and proDUCE (verb) to Simon’s list.

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