pronunciation: Don't; stressed or unstressed?

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Fumiko Take

Senior Member
Is "don't" usually unemphatically stressed?
I've been taught that negative short forms of auxiliaries are stressed and affirmative forms are unstressed in most environments (except for short answers such as "I can/I can't"). That seems true regarding such pairs as "can/can't", "have/haven't", etc. but I don't feel it does with "do/don't". A stressed "don't" would sound rather emphatic. I often hear American people pronounce it very subtly, rather than as a strong "don't". I've even seen a slang spelling of "don't know" written as "dunno" (as in "I dunno"), which may reflect that fact. Suppose these contexts:

1. -What is this?
-I don't know.
Here "don't know" would sound like "dunno". The speaker would simply mean that he doens't have any knowledge of "this"

2. A:-Tell me where it is!
B:-I don't know!
Here "don't" would sound fully stressed. Speaker B would emphasize the fact that he doesn't have the knowledge that A thinks he does.
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Don't' would only have the primary stress when contradicting the likes of 'You do know, but you're refusing to tell me'. However, it could have stress almost equal to the primary in your second example, with both words emphasized. It doesn't have a weak form as such, that is with a reduced vowel – that is, 'dunno' doesn't correspond to any two-word form of normal speech – so any use of it is likely to sound as if it has some stress. In longer statements the main stress is away from both of 'don't know':

    I don't know where it is.
    I don't know who did it.
    I don't know how to find the answer.

    (Or these have more emphatic alternatives with the main stress on the question word.)
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