I just did an experiment, in which my subjects were asked to identify the stress of some English words after they listened to the sound waves of sentences containing those words.
Please note that they don't know the words being tested.

Before I did the experiment, I had assumed that native English speakers should not have a problem judging the stress.
But, the result came to me as a big surprise. Non-native speakers (native Mandarin speakers) did a much better job than native speakers. I am very suspicious of the native English speakers response. I don't think they were being responsible when they marked the stress in the questionnaire. In other words, I still don't believe that it is harder for native English speakers to tell the primary stress than it is for non-native speakers.
All my subjects are graduate students of a competitive university in the USA and the two native speakers are doing their PhD in linguistics!

Four examples of the test sentences are accessible here http://www.geocities.com/antonyliu2002/
So, I post here in order to figure out the truth. Is it really hard for you native speakers of English to identify the primary stresses of the final words in those examples? If most of you say "yes, it's really hard", then I would believe that the two subjects of native English speakers were being responsible. Otherwise, I would be more confident that they were just arbitrarily marking the questionnaire (in order to fool me around).
So, what do you think after you listened to the sound waves on the page?
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(Email Removed) wrote on 30 Apr 2005:
I just did an experiment, in which my subjects were asked to identify the stress of some English words after ... order to fool me around). So, what do you think after you listened to the sound waves on the page?

The "Rising: You need to know more about rhizopod" sound file is difficult to figure out because the final syllable not only rises in pitch, but it rises in volume. It sounds as if the first and third syllables both take primary stress, or even that the third syllable takes the primary stress and the first takes secondary stress, but in the falling sentence, it's clear that primary stress is on the first syllable. In the other two sentences, stress is on the second syllable.
Native speakers of English are not taught how to stress words. They pick that up from other speakers. EFL students are taught about the stress and intonation patterns of English sentences and the stress patterns of English words. Ask a native speaker of English to diagram the intonation pattern of an English sentence and the response will probably be "Huh?" Ask a Japanese student of EFL and you'll get a perfect diagram. I'm not sure about Taiwanese students, but they can probably do the same thing.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
For email, replace numbers with English alphabet.
"You've got to get over this idea that there's a rule for everything." Professor John Lawler, U. Michigan
Yes, apparently the rising intonation is harder. That's fine. But the target words in the falling intonation should not be a problem at all for native English speakers.
Most of my native Mandarin subjects correctly identified the stresses of more than 95% of those target words in the falling intonation. But one of my native English subjects got only slightly over 50% right for that set of words in the falling intonation. Isn't this ridiculous?

You mentioned that native speakers are not taught how to stress words and they picked that up from other speakers. True, but I don't think this is relevant to my experiment.
In my experiment, I don't care how my subjects learned to stress English words. As long as they are native Speakers of English they come under my native speakers category, otherwise, they come under the non-native speakers category. (Well, I don't think it is necessary for me to define native speakers of English and non-native speakers of English here.)
You also mentioned that EFL speakers are taught about English stress patterns and intonation patterns.
I am an EFL speaker. I know this is not true. We were taught a little bit about English intonation patterns, such as
1) use rising intonation for yes/no questions.
2) use falling intonation for wh-questions.
3) in a question of a conjunction structure joined by "or", use risingintonation for the constituent immediately before "or" and falling intonation for that immediately after "or".
That's it, not much more than these.
Stress patterns are not generally taught at all, even in universities in my country. Stress patterns are really for linguistics students.

That said, that they are taught or not is irrelevant to my experiment.

In my experiment, my subjects are asked to LISTEN and then judge the stress. They are not supposed to morphologically analyze the target words in order to judge the location of the stress.

And because I was afraid that less-educated native English speakers may not know what stress is just like some elementary non-native speakers, I selected two native speakers of English who are doing their PhD in linguistics!
It looks like that my suspicion about their irresponsibility in doing the questionnaire is valid.
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(Email Removed) wrote on 30 Apr 2005:
Yes, apparently the rising intonation is harder. That's fine. But the target words in the falling intonation should not be a problem at all for native English speakers.

It's hard for me to judge that. I spent two years in graduate school studying linguistics, so I'm sensitive to things like stress and intonation patterns but that doesn't mean that I always get things right. I've also been teaching EFL in Japan and Taiwan for the past 20 years.
Most of my native Mandarin subjects correctly identified the stresses of more than 95% of those target words in the ... English subjects got only slightly over 50% right for that set of words in the falling intonation. Isn't this ridiculous?

Yes.
You mentioned that native speakers are not taught how to stress words and they picked that up from other speakers. True, but I don't think this is relevant to my experiment.

I don't know. The less-educated Mandarin speakers in southern Taiwan have lots of problems identifying the tones of words in Mandarin, and even the educated native speakers often mistake them when looking up words in electronic dicionaries.
In my experiment, I don't care how my subjects learned to stress English words. As long as they are native ... non-native speakers of English here.) You also mentioned that EFL speakers are taught about English stress patterns and intonation patterns.

I suppose I should have restricted that to EFL students in Japan and Taiwan.
I am an EFL speaker. I know this is not true. We were taught a little bit about English intonation ... stress. They are not supposed to morphologically analyze the target words in order to judge the location of the stress.

I understand. My point is that people who have been taught about stress and intonation patterns will probably be better able to hear them than people who haven't been. It seems to me to be a question of perception and apperception.
And because I was afraid that less-educated native English speakers may not know what stress is just like some elementary non-native speakers, I selected two native speakers of English who are doing their PhD in linguistics!

Certainly not future phoneticians or phonologists. What can one expect from sociolinguists or syntacticians?
It looks like that my suspicion about their irresponsibility in doing the questionnaire is valid.

I don't know about that, but I do know that even some well-known PhD students in linguistics at MIT back in the '70s and '80s wrote articles in which they claimed that certain sentences were "possible in English", sentences that I would never have recognized as either standard or otherwise acceptable English and, well, let's face it, anything* is *possible in English, so the claim that "(X) is possible in English" has no meaning, as far as I'm concerned. But maybe they were shining you on.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
For email, replace numbers with English alphabet.
"You've got to get over this idea that there's a rule for everything." Professor John Lawler, U. Michigan
So, I post here in order to figure out the truth. Is it really hard for you native speakers of ... order to fool me around). So, what do you think after you listened to the sound waves on the page?

The way the recordings sound to me, it's
rhi' zo pod
rhi' zo pod' (ie, almost equal stress on the last syllable) ma chai' ro dont
ma chai' ro dont

Aaron Davies
Opinions expressed are solely those of a random number generator. "I don't know if it's real or not but it is a myth." -Jami JoAnne of alt.folklore.urban, showing her grasp on reality.
Yes, apparently the rising intonation is harder. That's fine. But ... not be a problem at all for native English speakers.

It's hard for me to judge that. I spent two years in graduate school studying linguistics, so I'm sensitive to ... that I always get things right. I've also been teaching EFL in Japan and Taiwan for the past 20 years.

OK, this is becoming interesting. I thought about this possibility, too. That is, suppose the two native English subjects were being responsible, then does this mean that it is really the case that native Mandarin speakers can do a better job in identifying the stress of English words pronounced in the falling intonation? Since you say that you have problem telling the stress even for those words read in the falling intonation. I am an EFL speaker, and I don't have a big problem identifying the stress of English words if they are read in the falling intonation.
You mentioned that native speakers are not taught how to ... but I don't think this is relevant to my experiment.

I don't know. The less-educated Mandarin speakers in southern Taiwan have lots of problems identifying the tones of words in Mandarin, and even the educated native speakers often mistake them when looking up words in electronic dicionaries.

By "identifying the tones of words in Mandarin", I don't think you meant perceiving them. I guess you meant memorizing them. And I think my guess is almost confirmed when you say that "educated native speakers often mistake them when looking up words in electronic dicionaries (sic)".
As a matter of fact, even native English speakers who know nothing about Mandarin can perceive the differences of the 4 tones of Mandarin.
And also, there are no native speakers of Mandarin in Taiwan, except those aged northern Chinese who moved to Taiwan at some point of time after they grew up in North China.
Real native Mandarin (Let's make it Beijing dialect, coz otherwise, people will ask "what do yo mean by Mandarin?") speakers don't often check the dictionary for the tone of a particular word, unless they have never seen that word or on rare occasions when they suspect that the word has a different tone/pronunciation in Putonghua. But, then in this case, what s/he is not certain is the tone/pronunciation of the word in Putonghua (not Mandarin). S/he is certainly very confident about its tone/pronunication in the Beijing dialect, since s/he speaks it as a native.
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} I just did an experiment, in which my subjects were asked to identify } the stress of some English words after they listened to the sound waves } of sentences containing those words.
}
} Please note that they don't know the words being tested. }
} Before I did the experiment, I had assumed that native English speakers } should not have a problem judging the stress.
}
} But, the result came to me as a big surprise. Non-native speakers } (native Mandarin speakers) did a much better job than native speakers. } I am very suspicious of the native English speakers response. I don't } think they were being responsible when they marked the stress in the } questionnaire. In other words, I still don't believe that it is harder } for native English speakers to tell the primary stress than it is for } non-native speakers.
}
} All my subjects are graduate students of a competitive university in } the USA and the two native speakers are doing their PhD in linguistics! }
} Four examples of the test sentences are accessible here } http://www.geocities.com/antonyliu2002/
}
} So, I post here in order to figure out the truth. Is it really hard } for you native speakers of English to identify the primary stresses of } the final words in those examples? If most of you say "yes, it's } really hard", then I would believe that the two subjects of native } English speakers were being responsible. Otherwise, I would be more } confident that they were just arbitrarily marking the questionnaire (in } order to fool me around).
}
} So, what do you think after you listened to the sound waves on the page?

About what? What were the questions?
The sentences with file names ending with " r.wav" had a higher tone on the last word (a questioning tone), and the ones with file names ending in " f.wav" had a lower tone on the last word (a factual tone). All the last words had the primary stress on the antepenult and the secondary stress on the ultimate syllable, with less stress on the penult, so that the final two syllables showed increasing stress, but the final three showed decreasing stress. The final words were louder for the rising-tone files and softer for the falling-tone files.
Did you ask about syllable stress or word stress? Did you really ask about rising or falling stress?
The precise questions you asked would give some clue as to the valididy you could hope for in the responses.
The words were pronounced well enough, so I wouldn't put any blame on the speaker.
Is the speaker from the North Shore of Long Island? She is mercifully free of PSS and BrE influence, it seems.

R. J. Valentine
So, I post here in order to figure out the ... think after you listened to the sound waves on thepage?

The way the recordings sound to me, it's rhi' zo pod rhi' zo pod' (ie, almost equal stress on the last syllable) ma chai' ro dont ma chai' ro dont

You did a good job. Was it really difficult, especially for those two pronounced in the falling intonation? Cyber Cypher said it was hard for him.
About what? What were the questions? The sentences with file names ending with " r.wav" had a higher toneon the ... falling-tone files. Did you ask about syllable stress or word stress? Did you really ask about rising or falling stress?

OK, here is my assumptions again:
My 1st assumption is that native speakers of English should not have a big problem correctly perceiving the primary stress of an unknown English word if this word is read in a falling intonation.

My 2nd assumption is that it might be a little harder if the word is pronounced in the rising intonation.
So, R J, was it hard for you to perceive the primary stress of the two English words when they are read in the falling intonation? Yes or no?
The precise questions you asked would give some clue as to thevalididy you could hope for in the responses. The ... Is the speaker from the North Shore of Long Island? She ismercifully free of PSS and BrE influence, it seems.

I don't know where she is from, probably Michigan? Is she somehow supposed to be influenced by BrE? Did I make such a hint somewhere?

And what is PSS, please?
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