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For Emphasis (absolútely)

Languages have several means at their disposal whereby part or a whole utterance can be emphasized and thereby distinguished from a neutral stretch of speech. Relative loudness is one such means: something shouted at an interlocutor when the distance between speakers does not require raising one’s voice signifies emphasis (both emotive and referential). Another means, when it comes to English in particular, is elongation of the syllabic structure of words, i. e., pronouncing the vowels with unusual length. A related instance of elongation is what one observes in the word please, when a schwa is inserted between the first two consonants for emphasis.

As in the case of the amphibrachic structure of treméndous, to which appeal was made in an earlier post, prosody can also provide the means for realizing––or cooperating in the realization of––emphatic meaning. The currently ubiquitous answer to an interlocutor’s statement, instead of just agreeing by saying right or yes or certainly, is the emphatic absolútely, with high pitch on the stressed vowel. Aside from the intrinsic meaning of the word, its anapestic prosody (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable) is what has particularly contributed to this word’s being preferred nowadays as the emphatic riposte-in-agreement par excellence. The fact of the anapest having two unstressed syllables preceding the stress lends extra force by contrast to the stressed syllable, thereby heightening the emphatic meaning.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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