Časopis Slovo a slovesnost
en cz

Intonational and stress deviations from the norm and their reflection in dictionaires

Renata Blatná



Intonační a přízvukové odchylky od normy a jejich odraz ve slovnících

The paper will deal with two main groups of words in which deviations from stress and intonation can be observed: 1) greetings and farewells and 2) curses and commands.

In various books on phonology, phonetics and grammar it is claimed that in the Czech language the first syllable is stressed, but… In this sentence one thing is often or even always added, namely the words ”usually” or ”as a rule” – and therefore the whole sentence is worded like this: ”In Czech the first syllable is usually stressed.” This word ”usually” covers especially two types of deviations: enclitics and proclitics, i. e. unstressed words. The enclitics, esp. pronouns or auxiliary verbs are added to the preceding stressed word, as in ’já jsem se tě ’na to ’neptal (I haven’t asked you about it) where the auxiliary verb jsem and the pronouns se and are enclitics. The proclitics, on the other hand, precede the stressed word as in ten ’člověk se mi ’nelíbí (I don’t like this man) where the pronoun ten (this) is a proclitic. The monosyllabic prepositions in combination with nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numerals are stressed and the following word is unstressed, as in ’ve městě (in the town) or in ’na velké ’židli (on the big chair), etc.

In connection with proclitics and enclitics the term ”breath–group” – or let us call it ”tact” in accordance with Czech terminology – is usually used. It is the segment of speech (sentence, etc.) pronounced with a single stress. As the Czech phonetician Ondráčková states (1954) the Czech language ”tacts” are only decrescendo groups, and such word combinations with a proclitic as ten ’člověk are interpreted as a ”tact” with a ”pre–tact”, i. e. preceded by an incomplete ”tact”.

Some interjections and expressive words can be pronounced with either two parallel stresses or even the stress on the second syllable, cf. ’ha’hou, ’ha’ló, ’ju’chú or ’fuj’tajbl (where, however, two separate words are felt). The interjection ’a’ha (oh, I see) is also pronounced with two strong stresses. If this word is not ironically used it usually has a rising intonation, as in the word combination ’jo’ták (that’s how it is), ’už’vím (I remember now) and a long vowel in the second syllable, cf. ’ahá x jo táák. It means that the rising intonation is closelly linked with the shift of stress and vowel length.

However, all the mentioned examples are more important for phonetics and phonology, than for lexicology and semantics. In the past, several attempts to specify the stress or emphasis or intonation and their relevance in Czech semantics were made. I would like to mention at least one study, which tries to pin down such relevance to lexical units, i. e. not on the syntax level. S. Petřík (1938) – besides many interesting remarks on the intonation of Czech sentence in general – referred to several cases of the so–called semantic role of stress or, rather, emphasis. He concentrated his attention especially on such adverbs/particles as také (also), zase (again), přece (still), sotva (hardly), and teprve. Let us take the adverb/particle teprve as an example. According to Petřík, there are two lexical meanings:

a) temporal – e. g. ten se teprve ’učí (he’s just/only started learning) and b) gradual – e. g. ten se ’teprve učí (he learns so much more). This means that the adverb/particle teprve in [162]the second sentence, in a gradual meaning, cannot be pronounced without emphasis. F. Daneš (1957) casts doubt on this argument by giving other more complex examples. The emphasis, according to Daneš, depends on the position of the expression teprve in the whole sentence, that is, it depends on whether the expression is thematic or rhematic. In the temporal meaning the word teprve is never emphasized as the following expression is rhematic, in the gradual meaning, the following expression can be either thematic, or rhematic.

This observation results in the following conclusion: the emphasis in Petřík’s examples – homonymous sentences – can play only a distinctive role, not a really semantic one. That is why such cases cannot be easily reflected in a lexicographic entry.

Let us turn our attention now to the main object of my contribution: greetings, farewells, curses and commands. First of all I must say that this paper takes into account only isolated greetings, farewells and curses, i. e. not those addressed to a particular person.

The stress and intonation pattern of greetings and farewells are remarkably different. They were studied by Czech linguists S. Petřík (1938) and J. Jančák (1957). They paid attention especially to such greetings as dobrý den (Good morning), dobrý večer (Good evening), má úcta (old–fashioned greeting used by elder people), čest práci (greeting of communists), nazdar and ahoj (hi, hello). These greetings can have two types of intonation. The first type is represented by a falling intonation, one or two ”tacts” with an emphasis on the first ”tact” and it is sometimes used as a signal of a negative feeling, such as anger or annoyance, i. e. . The second type is represented by a rising or rising–falling intonation, one ”tact” with a ”pre–tact” or two ”tacts” with the emphasis on the second ”tact”, and it is a signal of friendliness and politeness, i. e. . Also F. Trávníček (1941) characterized this intonation as a signal of a good nature, familiarity and affability. (Sometimes a third type of intonation can be observed, a falling–rising, which is used mainly while entering a room, i. e. ).

As the neutral intonation appears very rarely – in most cases various greetings bear emotional information – the most frequent type of intonation is therefore the second one. Jančák describes it as a kind of intonational pointing–out. It seems that the most convenient intonational, rhythmical and stress type of greetings for Czech speakers is either a clitic without stress and a disyllabic word with the stress on the first syllable as in the old–fashioned greeting má úcta or a communist čest práci, or a clitic and a monosyllabic stressed word as in buď zdráv or /zdař bůh.

However, among Jančák’s intonational and stress patterns of greetings dobrý večer and dobrý den there is none with the stress on the second syllable in the first ”tact”, i. e. the greeting dobrý den is pronounced ’–. Although it was Chlumský who some sixty years ago also proved the regularity of first–syllable stress in these greetings, such pattern can be fully expected. How could we explain such abbreviated forms as brýden, brejden, brejvečír, brýtro (Morning, Evening, etc.)? The way of pronunciation is rather careless, or even slapdash. The first syllable is completely reduced and disappears in the end. These ways of pronunciation are discussed by V. Mathesius (1947). He distinguishes three types of careless pronunciation: gliding (sliding) (= klouzavá), swallowing (= polykavá) and syncopic. The abbreviated forms like brýden could be marked as ”swallowing”. As far as syncopic pronunciation is concerned Mathesius defines it as a very quick pronunciation where a great number of syllables is brought together under one stress. However, this definition seems a bit misleading. The syncope from the musicological point of view is ”a displacement of rhythmical stress to the metrical unstressed place” (Malá encyklopedie hudby, 1983, p. 631). That is why I would mark such forms as brejden as resulting from an originally syncopic and later swallowing pronunciation.

From the lexicographical point of view, the most important greeting is ahoj (hi). When used as a greeting, it is mostly pronounced with the stress on the second syllable or even with two stresses and a rising intonation. It is very similar to other disyllabic [163]greetings like buď zdráv or tě bůh (and other forms with ). The greeting nazdar originated in combination of the noun zdar (success) with the preposition na (upon) and the connection with such combinations as in ve městě (in the town) is still felt by speakers. Therefore, a structure with the stress on the first syllable was preserved.

The word ahoj used as a farewell formula is quite different. Its second syllable is also stressed but the intonation is falling as in a childish farewell pá pá (English bye–bye) which is also pronounced with two stresses, or similar čau čau. It seems to me that farewells tend toward the following intonational and stress pattern: , as in nashle instead of na shledanou (good–bye) or, in spoken language, měj se (see you later).

This observation about the Czech ahoj is relevant for the lexicographer, too, because stress and intonation play a semantic role here. The entry of ahoj could look like this: AHOJ [a’hoj]… 1. greeting : Ahoj, to jsem rád, že tě vidím (Hi/hello, I am glad to see you); 2. farewell : Tak ahoj, já už musím jít (Bye, I have to go).

Among the second group of words and word combinations where deviations from usual Czech stress and intonation can be heard, i. e. curses and swear–words, a similar stress pattern can be found. The disyllabic swear–word hergot is often pronounced with two stresses, i. e. ’her’got. The reasons for this specific ”stress situation”, however, are quite different. From the rhythmical point of view curses are very similar to childish games and poems in which every even syllable is stressed, no matter if it is at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the word, where stressing in Czech is impossible:

’En ten ’tyky

’dva špa’líky

’čert vy’letěl

’z elek’triky

’bez klo’bouku ’bos

’nara’zil si ’nos.

The same rhythmicization is used when curses, especially multi–word ones, are pronounced slowly, as in ’do pr’dele, ’do pr’kýnka, ’zatra’ceně, ’do prk’vančic, ’za trá’mečkem ’pavu’činka and many others. There is a strong tendency to use words and word combinations with odd number of syllables, the least number of syllables in the examples given was four. The word hergot consists only of two syllables and that is why this rhythmical pattern is condensed into two syllables. The intonational features of curses should also be mentioned: the intonation is falling–rising, i. e. –’.

Rhythmicization is also used by soldiers and sportsmen in their commands but here the regular Czech stress is usually preserved and is emphasized while the unstressed syllables are pronounced very quickly, as in vlevóó ’v bok! (left turn!). The intonation is rising. Accordingly, a disyllabic word, such as ’pó–’zor!, has the same rhythmical, intonational and emphasis pattern as the longer ones.

What about a lexicographic entry in such cases? They cannot be interpreted as specific meanings of lexical units but supplementary information, especially on the stress of words like hergot or pozor, however, would be useful.

To conclude my paper: the previous Czech dictionaries published in the sixties and late seventies did not take into consideration that a dictionary of Czech language might be used by a foreigner, translator or student of Czech language, who does not know the correct pronunciation (stress and intonation). This approach should be changed in future.




Daneš, F.: Intonace a věta ve spisovné češtině. Praha 1957.

Chlumský, J.: Česká kvantita, melodie a přízvuk. Praha 1928.

Jančák, P.: Zvuková stránka českého pozdravu. Rozpravy ČSAV 67, 5. Praha 1957.

Malá encyklopedie hudby. Praha 1983.

Mathesius, V.: Výslovnost jako jev sociální a funkční. In: Čeština a obecný jazykozpyt, Praha 1947, s. 130–136.

Ondráčková, J.: O mluvním rytmu v češtině. SaS, 15, 1954, s. 145–157.

Petřík, S.: K hudební stránce středočeské věty, Praha 1938.



Intonační a přízvukové odchylky od normy a jejich odraz ve slovnících

Článek se zabývá zachycením přízvukových a částečně také intonačních odchylek ve slovníkovém hesle. Zaměřuje se především na dvě skupiny lexikálních jednotek a sousloví, u nichž hraje rytmická a přízvuková stránka důležitou roli, a to na a) pozdravy a b) kletby a rozkazy. Ukazuje se, že rytmická a přízvuková struktura víceslovných celků se promítá do jednoslovných jednotek, srov. buď ’zdráv a’hoj, ’zatra’ceně ’her’got, vlevó v ’bok pó–’zor. Vzhledem k tomu, že slovníky češtiny budou stále více užívat cizinci (studenti, překladatelé apod.), měla by slovníková hesla obsahovat také informaci o odchylném přízvuku domácích slov.

Ústav pro jazyk český AV ČR

Slovo a slovesnost, ročník 54 (1993), číslo 3, s. 161-164

Předchozí Writing vs. Speaking: Language, Text, Discourse, Communication

Následující Helena Confortiová: Relations between written and oral forms of language in teaching Czech foreigners