Icelandic: stress timed or syllable timed

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laurent485

Member
Chinese
Hi everyone,

As the subject of the thread indicates, I wish to know to which phonological type the Icelandic language belongs. An article titled
Isochrony on wikipedia - Isochrony - Wikipedia - indicates that Icelandic is a syllable-timed language. This puzzles me fairly for two reasons : 1) Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are all stress-timed. Together with Icelandic and Faroese, they all derived from old Norse. Besides, all of the west Germanic languages are also stress-timed. 2) Like all the other Germanic languages, Icelandic distinguishes short and long vowels. As far as I know, languages distinguishing short and long vowels are usually stress-timed. Examples outside of Germanic include Finnish, Russian and even Arabic. On the contrary, languages in which vowel length is meaningless are generally syllable-timed, perfect examples being French and Spanish sounding like machine gun. So could anyone, especially Icelandic native speakers, give me some ideas about this?
 
  • Segorian

    Senior Member
    Icelandic & Swedish
    As the Wikipedia article stands now, it classifies Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Faroese as “typical stress-timed” languages, while Icelandic is said to be “commonly quoted” as a syllable-timed language. I agree that, on the face of it, this does not seem to make sense.

    However, the article also states that there is a “lack of solid evidence for a clear-cut categorical distinction between the two rhythmical types” and that it has been suggested that languages simply “differ in which type of timing predominates”. Therefore, assuming that the distinction is even remotely valid, a deep-going analysis would probably be needed to ascertain whether Icelandic should be classified as a (predominantly) stress-timed or a (predominantly) syllable-timed language.

    Interestingly, the terms isochrony and isochronic are sometimes used in relation to the oral performance of poetry to refer to the “equivalence of temporally unequal units” (Charles Bernstein, Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word”, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 [my emphasis]), which appears to contrast with the above.
     
    Last edited:

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Examples outside of Germanic include Finnish, Russian and even Arabic. On the contrary, languages in which vowel length is meaningless are generally syllable-timed, perfect examples being French and Spanish sounding like machine gun. So could anyone, especially Icelandic native speakers, give me some ideas about this?
    Finnish is not stress timed. It is a language of maybe the most clear cut syllable timing.
     

    klandri

    Member
    Icelandic
    Icelandic only distinguishes vowel length on stressed syllables which is always the first syllable of every word. Maybe that's what they mean, that aside from the first syllable in a word every syllable is equally long?
     

    kepulauan

    Senior Member
    Icelandic
    Icelandic doesn't have any phonemic long/short vowel distinction, so the theory adds up. This doesn't mean that all syllables are always equal length all the time though; it's just a general flow of speaking.
    There may be more variation in length in acting or subculture talk, but that's more intra-sentence than intra-word.
    Perhaps it doesn't take that long for it to change (a few generations maybe?); it's not hard to imagine Icelandic becoming more stressed or mainland dialects becoming less stressed.
     

    klandri

    Member
    Icelandic
    Icelandic doesn't have any phonemic long/short vowel distinction
    Doesn't it though with gabb /kap/ contrasting with gap /ka: p/ (space after the colon to prevent the site from changing into :p) for example? Assuming linmæli of course. Or am I missing something?
     

    kepulauan

    Senior Member
    Icelandic
    I suppose that's right, although the 'a' is simply a result of a following gemination (is there any other way the vowel length to change?).
    So maybe it's a question of apparent difference in degree (not division) of syllable length variation between languages. Icelandic appears more syllable-timed, with its stress constraint, than e.g. Swedish, which has far more variation. This is also the topic of bottom half of the Wikipedia article.
     
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