Aspects of English Sentence Stress is written within the conceptual framework of generative-transformational grammar. However, it is atheoretical in the sense that the proposals made cannot be formulated in this theory and are a challenge to many other theories. The author's concern is not with the phonetic nature of stress; rather, using a working definition of stress as subjective impression of prominence, she attempts to formulate general principles that will predict the relative prominence of different words in particular utterances—what might be called the syntax of stress. She supports her arguments with a large amount of original data and provides the basis for new ways of thinking about this area of linguistic research.
Schmerling begins with a detailed review and critique of Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle's approach to sentence stress; she shows that their cyclic analysis cannot be considered valid, even for quite simple phrases and sentences. Next, she reviews discussions of sentence stress by Joan Bresnan, George Lakoff, and Dwight Bolinger, agreeing with Bolinger's contention that there is no intimate connection between sentence stress and syntactic structure but showing that his counterproposal to the standard approach is inadequate as well. She also examines the concept of "normal stress" and demonstrates that no linguistically significant distinction can be drawn between "normal" and "special" stress contours.
In generating her own proposals concerning sentence stress, Schmerling takes the view that certain items which are stressable are taken for granted by the speaker and are eliminated from consideration by the principles governing relative prominence of words in a sentence. Then she examines the pragmatic and phonological principles pertaining to items that are not eliminated from consideration. Finally, the author contends that the standard views, which she shows to be untenable, are a result of the assumption that linguistic entities should be studied apart from questions concerning their use, in that it was adoption of this methodological assumption that forced linguists to deny the essentially pragmatic nature of sentence stress.
Accessible to anyone who is familiar with the basic concepts of generative-transformational grammar, Aspects of English Sentence Stress presents provocative ideas in the field.