Emergent iambs: Stress in Modern Hebrew

Dafna Graf, Adam Ussishkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


A comprehensive analysis of stress in nouns and verbs in Modern Hebrew has eluded metrical phonologists for some time. This is most likely due to the fact that on the surface, Modern Hebrew appears to employ quantity-insensitive iambic feet. By contrast, developing the typology of feet in Modern Hebrew appears to result in syllabic trochees for the purpose of secondary stress assignment. Here, we propose a metrical constraint hierarchy that generates the correct footing for forms of any number of syllables and assigns main stress on a final syllable and secondary stress on alternating syllables to the left. No foot-type is explicitly demanded by any constraint; iambic structure is not imposed through any specific constraint on foot form, but rather emerges as the result of the interaction between constraints on prosodic structure. Additional complications arise in the verbal system, in which main stress is no longer necessarily final. In our analysis, we adopt the framework of Optimality Theory (OT; Prince, Alan, Smolensky, Paul, 1993. Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar. Ms, Rutgers University and University of Colorado, Boulder). We provide an OT account of these facts, connecting them to the well-known observation regarding the relation between the seemingly irregular verbal stress pattern and a pattern of vowel deletion. We argue that the Modern Hebrew metrical system does not make any explicit reference to particular foot types. Our proposal also accounts for rhythmic secondary stress. To our knowledge, this is the first analysis that successfully accounts for Modern Hebrew stress in both verbs and nouns, showing that a unified approach captures important empirical generalizations concerning the prosodic organization of the language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-270
Number of pages32
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2003


  • Modern Hebrew
  • Optimality Theory
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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