Syllable & Stress-Timed Languages


Syllable-timed and stress-timed languages refer to the ways in which a language’s rhythm can be described. The difference between syllable-timing and stress-timing is a result of repeating (isochronous) syllables or stresses (Marshall & Bird, 2018, p. 113). Mora timed languages also exist, but will not be discussed in this glossary.

Below are more detailed descriptions of syllable-timed languages and stress-timed languages.

  • Stress-Timed Language:
    • A stress-timed language refers to a language that alternates between stressed and unstressed syllables in some way. The stressed syllables are produced at relatively regular-timed rates during speech, and unstressed syllables are reduced in order to fit within the rhythm between stressed syllables. This means, that in these languages, the stress of syllables is more influential on how the language patterns in terms of rhythm. Examples of stress-timed languages are English, Dutch, and Polish.
  • Syllable-Timed Language:
    • A syllable-timed language is one that has syllables of approximately the same length and tends to have similar syllable-types (in terms of consonant versus vowel combinations) and do not to have reduced syllables. This means that the timing of each syllable in a word tends to be equal. Examples of syllable-timed languages are French, Cantonese, and Romanian.


  • Hul’q’umi’num: in a study by Marshall & Bird (2018), it is predicted that Hul’q’umi’num will pattern more like stress-timed languages as a result of the range of syllable types (i.e. variations of consonant and vowel combination within a syllable).
    • It is instead supported that Hul’q’umi’num does not exactly pattern like stress-timed or syllable-timed languages, as a result of the variation of consonants permitted within a single consonant (e.g. VCV vs. VCCCCV) (p. 120). This warrants further research on the rhythm of Hul’q’umi’num.
    • It is found, however, that in terms of vocalic metrics (vowels), that Hul’q’umi’num does pattern like a stress-timed language.