Speech Prosody 2006

Dresden, Germany
May 2-5, 2006

Stress and Accent in Catalan and Spanish: Patterns of Duration, Vowel Quality, Overall Intensity, and Spectral Balance

Pilar Prieto, Marta Ortega-Llebaria

ICREA-UAB & University of Texas-Austin, USA

This article is concerned with the acoustic correlates that characterize stress and accent in Catalan and Spanish. We analyzed four acoustic correlates of stress (syllable duration, vowel quality, overall intensity, and spectral balance) in four conditions, namely, stressed and unstressed syllables in both accented and unaccented environments. This allowed us to examine the relative strength of these correlates and see how they interacted with the presence versus absence of a pitch accent. Given that Spanish and Catalan differ greatly in the way they use vowel reduction to mark stressed positions (Catalan has a phonological process of vowel reduction that affects all vowels except [i] and [u], the goal of this study is to test whether they will also differ in the way they use the other acoustic correlates (duration and intensity) to signal the presence of stress and accent. Our results revealed no great differences between the two languages’ use of acoustic cues. Along with the findings of Slujter & collaborators [1], [2], [3] and Campbell & Beckman [4] on Dutch and English, Catalan and Spanish reveal systematic differences in the acoustic characterization along the accent and stress dimensions. Specifically, while syllable duration, vowel quality, and spectral tilt are reliable acoustic correlates of the stress difference in both languages, accentual differences are acoustically marked by overall intensity cues.


  1. Slujter, A.M.C.; van Heuven, V., 1996a. Spectral balance as an acoustic correlate of linguistic stress. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 100(4), 2471-2485.
  2. Slujter, A.M.C.; van Heuven, V., 1996b. Acoustic correlates of linguistic stress and accent in Dutch and American English. Proceedings of ICSLP, 96. Philadelphia: Applied Science and Engineering Laboratories, Alfred I. duPont Institute, pp. 630-633.
  3. Slujter, A.M.C.; van Heuven, V.; Pacilly, J.J.A., 1997. Spectral balance as a cue in the perception of linguistic stress. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 101 (1), 503-513.
  4. Campbell, N.; Beckman, M., 1997. Stress, prominence and spectral tilt. In Intonation: Theory, Models and Applications, A. Botinis, G. Kouroupetroglou & G. Carayiannis (eds.). ESCA and University of Athens Department of Informatics, 67-70.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Prieto, Pilar / Ortega-Llebaria, Marta (2006): "Stress and accent in Catalan and Spanish: patterns of duration, vowel quality, overall intensity, and spectral balance", In SP-2006, paper 022.