Accent, pronounced AK sehnt, in language, is
an emphasis placed on a syllable in a word and is often called stress. Dictionaries
usually indicate an accented syllable by a mark placed after the syllable. A secondary
accent can be indicated by two marks or by one light accent mark. Accented syllables can
also be shown by capital letters or italics. Where pronunciations are given in The World
Book Encyclopedia, capital letters are used for the syllable with the primary accent and
small capital letters for the secondary accent. See Key to pronunciation at the beginning
of the A volume in the print version of The World Book Encyclopedia.
The tendency in English is to shift the accent toward the beginning of the word. The
accent in the word re VOKE shifts toward the beginning in the form ir REV ocable. This
tendency often causes a change in the language. The accent in the word BAL con y was once
placed on the second syllable (pronounced bal CON y).
Words spelled in the same way are sometimes accented on different syllables. This usually
means they have different meanings or different usages. The verb of a pair of identical
words may have the accent on the second syllable, although the noun or adjective has it on
the first. For example, ab SENT is the verb, while AB sent is the adjective. Accent is
important in sentences as well as in words. The accent of a sentence can change its
meaning completely. "You walked down the avenue" expresses four different
meanings when the accent is put on you, walked, down, or avenue.
Accent, as in "foreign accent" or "English accent," refers to
differences in pronunciation. These differences indicate the speaker's dialect or native
Contributor: Marianne Cooley, Ph.D., Assistant Prof. of English, Univ. of Houston.