Utah State University Faculty Honor Lectures
The Faculty Association, Utah State University
Have your ears, not to mention your sensibilities, and your reverence for long established familiar rhythms and meanings been quite rudely jolted?
If each individual present here were to read these well-known lines from the printed page, or recite them from memory, I'm sure that you would, in each case, almost invariably reproduce them with the same stress, pitch, and rhythm patterns. There is comfort and relaxation of mind in rolling out the familiar phrases, with the stresses, relaxation from stress, and variations in pitch, that make them full of meaning.
Contrariwise, when you heard them spoken as I read them just now, the normal meaning of each group of words was violated by the change of stress and pitch on certain words. Your mind was induced to fly off in odd directions, trying to find some reason for the obvious distortion of the familiar and comfortable pattern of the normal.
The distortions of meaning and reference produced by the shift of stress and pitch are proof positive that our English language is not just the 600,000 plus vocabulary items listed in Webster's International. Those vocabulary items have to be arranged in certain sequences and patterns according to what is known as the rules of grammar. If both speaker and listener know and observe these rules, successful communication can be established. But there is much more to the problem of making our thoughts clear to a person on the receiving end.
Meyer, George A., "The Semantics of Stress and Pitch in English" (1961). Faculty Honor Lectures. Paper 35.