Thursday, September 14, 2006

Accent-uate the Positive

One definition of accent is a prominence given to one syllable in a word, or in a phrase, over the adjacent syllables. In classical languages, this prominence was signified by pitch. Emphasis on words ranged over a musical fifth. In time, the musicality ceased to be a feature, and degree of force replaced it: a light flick vs. a heavy punch. Many oriental languages depend on an almost musical shift in tone to convey meaning.

Accent is also used to signify the quality of utterance peculiar to an individual, locality, or nation. Broadly speaking, most people can tell whether an individual has a New England accent, a southern accent, or a Midwestern accent. Those experienced enough can also tell whether they are listening to a Frenchman, a Spaniard, a German, a Pakistani, etc.

Poetry depends on accent -- alternating strong and weak syllables in set patterns -- to constitute the rhythm or measure of the verse.

Finally, accent is the word used to denote something that emphasizes or highlights a decorative style -- even a color or light that offers contrast.

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