Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 85-89
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 85
Optimality Theoretic Representation of Stress in Cairene Arabic
Rajaa Aquil
School of Modern Languages, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA
Received July 13th, 2012; revised August 13th, 2012; accepted August 20th, 2012
Stress pattern of Cairene Arabic (CA) has played a major role in the development of stress placement
theory. Syllable weight plays a role, however, the weight to stress principle does not always apply. Bi-
moracity of a foot is very important and is largely addressed in the literature. Stress in CA is described in
the literature as Moraic Trochee, but primary stress is on one of the three leftmost syllables. Many studies
investigated primary stress in CA. These studies employed different theoretic formulations based on the
segmental rules, the metrical phonological tree, and the metrical phonological grid. Notwithstanding, no
recent study has translated the findings of the aforementioned literature into an Optimality Theoretic Con-
straints framework. The present paper attempts to accomplish this feat. The paper also presents a new set
of data based on CA spoken language.
Keywords: Cairene Arabic Primary Stress; Optimality Theoretic Framework; Constraints Hierarchy;
Cairene Arabic Spoken Data
The stress pattern of Cairene Arabic (CA) has played a major
role in the development of metrical and stress placement theory
(Halle & Vergnaud, 1987; Hayes, 1995; Prince, 1983; Selkirk,
1984). There is no dispute over the place of primary stress in
CA, namely, it is on one of the rightmost three syllables (Gaird-
ner, 1926; Halle & Vergnaud, 1987; Harms, 1981; Harrell, 1957;
Hayes, 1995; McCarthy, 1979; Mitchell, 1956, 1960a; Welden,
1) a) Stress the penult, whether light or heavy.
i) bána he built
ii) fíhim he understood(3rd sg, m)
iii) mibáħbaħ easygoing
b) Stress the final if superheavy.
i) barabánd one who talks very
fast and fluently
ii) mutaʕallaqáat belongings
iii) baraníitʕ hats
c) Stress the antepenult or the penult, whichever is sepa-
rated by an even number of syllables from the immediately
preceding heavy syllable or the beginning of the word (where
zero separation is counted as even).
i) šágara a tree
ii) ʔibtádaʕ invented
iii) sabahlála haphazard
Formulations of primary stress have had different representa-
tions, e.g., rule-based stress assignment (Chomsky & Halle, 1986,
1991), metrical phonological tree (Liberman & Prince, 1977)
and metrical phonological grid (Halle & Vergnaud, 1987).
2) Segmental Rule-Based (Welden, 1980).
S is either a heavy syllable (H) or a light syllable (L)
S [+stress]/ # (X H) ____ (L L) ## L
The rules abbreviate the following environments.
i) Stress the antepenult if it is a light syllable, right after a
heavy syllable or starting the word, as in a) and b).
ii) Or stress the penult, as in c) or the final elsewhere, as in d).
a) L [+stress]/ # X H ___ L L ##
ʔmbásʕatʕu they became happy
b) L [+stress]/ # ___ L L ## kátabu ‘they wrote
c) S [+stress]/ ___ L ## ráma ‘he threw
maktába ‘a library
d) S [0 + stress]/ ___ ## šáaf ‘he saw'
katabúu<h> ‘they wrote it
kitáab ‘book
It is well known that segmental rule-based theory was not
adequate to represent all stress-related phenomena, especially
the internal structure of a syllable and its role in determining
where stress is placed. For example, rules could not capture the
hierarchical structure of a syllable structure, as the syllable can-
not be explained in a single line or linear approach. This led
researchers to adopt nonlinear phonological theories, e.g., met-
rical tree phonology and metrical grid phonology, to capture
prosodic phenomena that were not straightforwardly repre-
sented in the segmental rule-based theory. The following met-
rical phonological tree and metrical phonological grid struc-
tures 3) demonstrate the representation of the primary stress in
the word [ʕasaliyyáaya] ‘kind of candy’.
3) a) Metrical Phonology Tree
s s s
sw s w s w w
b) Metrical Phonology Grid
2 ( * ) Prosodic word level
1 (*.)(*.)(*.) Foot level
0 ** ** ** *
μ μ μμ μμ μ Mora level
However, to my knowledge, no study has ever translated the
findings of the literature in relation to primary stress in CA into
an Optimality Theoretic Framework1. In this paper I attempt to
accomplish this feat.
The data set analyzed in this paper is drawn from Cairene
spoken Arabic2. Studies conducted on Arabic so far have either
focused on Classical or Modern Standard Arabic, and on Clas-
sical Arabic as pronounced by Egyptian or Cairene3 Arabic
speakers, what has come to be known as Egyptian Radio Ara-
bic (Halle & Vergnaud, 1987; Hayes, 1995; Kenstowicz, 1980;
McCarthy, 1979; Mitchell, 1960b). As a result, the findings and
motivating models available in the literature are, for the most
part, based on the Cairene pronunciation of Classical Arabic, a
variety that may exhibit two different stress systems: Cairene
Arabic and Classical Arabic pronounced in a Cairene way. The
literature motivates the inclusion of Classical Arabic since it
supplies the data with a wider array of possible syllabic shapes,
and thus provides a stiffer test for any proposed model (Hayes,
1995: p. 67).
Because studies investigating the stress pattern of CA have
generally looked at the CA pronunciation of Classical or Mod-
ern Standard Arabic norms, I set on analyzing a CA data set
independent of Classical, in order to present a stress account
that is based solely on uniquely CA phonetic outputs.
The CA data in (1) show that stress in CA words is placed on
the penult, whether it is heavy or light, but may also be placed
on the ultimate final syllable if it is super-heavy or on the ante-
penult whether it is light or heavy. Therefore, neither position
nor weight is the sole decisive factor in determining where
stress should fall.
From the data-set in 1) we can reach the following generali-
4) Generalizations on stress
a) Monosyllabic words must be bimoraic.
b) Main stress in bisyllabic (LL) words is on the left syllable.
c) In a polysyllabic word, the main stress must fall on the
rightmost light or heavy syllable.
d) Stress does not fall on a final CVC syllable.
e) Stress falls on a final syllable only when it is CVV or
super-heavy, i.e., CVCC or CVVC.
Well-established phonological analyses of minimal word re-
quirements in the literature demonstrate that some languages
require content words to be of some minimal size, often two
syllables or two moras (Kenstowicz, 1994). In CA, a monosyl-
labic content word must be superheavy, CVVC or CVCC. A
final consonant does not add to the weight of a syllable, so only
superheavy syllables reach the minimum size of two moras. As
a result, a degenerate foot must be forbidden—a conclusion al-
so reached by Watson (2002) within autosegmental phonologi-
cal theory.
Since super heavy syllables attract stress, we can infer that a
constraint, which prefers weight to be stressed, must be at play.
Likewise, since stress falls on one of the last three right-most
syllables, an alignment constraint favoring the right edge of the
word must also be at play in stress assignment. Directionality of
how feet are constructed also plays a role in where stress falls,
as exemplified in [šágara] in (c)1 where stress is on a leftmost,
rather than the rightmost syllable. Finally, we realize from the
data that final CVC and CVV act differently. The former does
not attract stress, but the latter does.
I propose an Optimality Theoretic (OT) analysis in tableau
(Tableaux 1-11) using violable as well as un-dominated con-
straints. This analysis demonstrates and represents straight for-
wardly and economically the optimal place where primary
stress docks in a word. The following constraints are at play.
Optimality Constraints Ranking Approach
OT adopts a representational framework in which the optimal
candidate that satisfies the high-ranked constraint wins over all
other candidates produced by GEN (the generator that creates
linguistic candidates). The grammar decides on the winner
through EVAL, which selects the best candidate that satisfies
the high-ranked constraints. In addition, the grammar decides
on surface forms; therefore, there is no resort to ordering rules.
In OT, forms are marked with respect to some constraint if they
violate it. These forms are literally marked in that they incur
violation marks for the constraint as part of their grammatical
derivation. In this way, these forms or candidates are consid-
ered losers and an [L]4 is marked in the column of the given
constraint. The constraints in 5) are considered to have a role in
stress placement in CA.
5) Prosodic and stress constraints in CA
Feet must be binary under syllabic or moriac analysis
(McCarthy & Prince, 1986, 1990, 1993b; Prince, 1980).
Weight-to Stress Principle (WSP)
Heavy syllables must be stressed (Prince & Smolensky,
1993, 2004).
PARSE-Syllable (PARSE-σ)
A syllable must be footed (Prince & Smolensky, 1993,
Foot-form (trochaic) (TR)
Leftmost position of the foot is the head of the foot
1Optimality Theory (McCarthy & Prince, 1993a; Prince & Smolensky, 1993,
2004) is a constraint-based approach to phonological well-formedness. It
posits that Universal Grammar has a set of violable universal constraints
(CON). These constraints encompass universal properties of languages. All
universal constraints are available in every language in the world. However,
each language has its particular ranking of these constraints, i.e., a certain
hierarchy. Some languages may rank a certain constraint high in its hierar-
chy while others may rank the same constraint very low. This difference in
constraint ranking explains the variation that arises between languages. In
addition Optimality Theory (OT) adopts a representational framework in
which the candidate that optimally satisfies a given constraint ranking wins
over all other candidates produced by GEN (the generator that creates
linguistic candidates). The grammar decides on the winner through EVAL,
which selects the best candidate that satisfies the high-ranked constraints.
2CA data was extracted from (Badawi & Hinds, 1986), A dictionary o
Egyptian Arabic.
3Egyptian and Cairene Arabic refer to the same main dialect spoken par-
ticularly in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, and the delta.
This constraint requires feet to be left headed and accounts
for the trochaic form of the disyllabic feet (Prince & Smo-
lensky, 1993, 2004).
All segments of a syllable must be linked to the level im-
mediately above (McCarthy, 2008).
4I adopt Prince (2002) and McCarthy (2008) comparative or combination
tableau, because combination tableau illustrates the ranking between con-
straints as well as violation marks. In the tableau, each losing candidate is
compared to the winning candidate in regards to each and every constraint.
(W) denotes that the constraint in question prefers the winner rather than
the given candidate. Whereas the (L) denotes that the given constraint
prefers the losing candidate rather than the winner. Blank cells in a combi-
nation tableau denote that the constraint that has the blank cells in its col-
umn does not have a preference.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ALIGN (Foot, L, PrWd, L) (AFL)
All feet aligned left
ALIGN the left edge of each foot with the left edge of
some prosodic word (McCarthy & Prince, 1993).
ALIGN (Foot, R, PrWd, R) (AFR)
All feet aligned right
ALIGN the right edge of each foot with the right edge of
some prosodic word (McCarthy & Prince, 1993).
Main stress of the word is rightmost
ALIGN the head foot of a prosodic word with the right
edge of a prosodic word (McCarthy & Prince, 1993).
FootBinarity >> Trochaic, PARSE-σ, PARSE-SEG,
Because minimal word requirement is adhered to in CA, as
noted above, FtBin must have a very important role in the pros-
ody of CA and should accordingly be high ranked. Tableau 1
illustrates the interaction between FTBIN, which stipulates that
a foot consist of two moras, and PARSE SG, which specifies
that all the segments of a syllable should be parsed.
Tableau 1 shows that there is a direct ranking between
FTBIN and PARSE-σ. No ranking is evident between PARSE-σ
and PARSE SG, as the two are in a stringency relationship5, i.e.,
every violation of PARSE-σ is also a violation of PARSE SG,
but the reverse is not the case. In Tableau 1 candidate (a) is the
optimal candidate because it does not violate FTBIN. Candi-
dates (b) and (c) lose because they violate FTBIN. Candidate (b)
satisfies PARSE-σ by parsing all the syllables, and it also satis-
fies PARSE SG by parsing the last consonant in the word. How-
ever, by satisfying these two constraints, candidate (b) violates
FTBIN when it parses a degenerate foot that is not of two mo-
ras (i.e., [li]) and when it parses the last consonant. By parsing
the last consonant, the final syllable becomes trimoraic.
Tableau 2 illustrates the ranking between FOOTBINARITY
Tableau 2 demonstrates that FTBIN dominates both PARSE-
σ and TROCHAIC. The most optimal candidate is (a) since it
obeys FTBIN constraint at the expense of TROCHAIC and
PARSE-σ. Candidate (b) loses because it parses a degenerate
foot (i.e., [mi]), whereas candidates (c) and (d) lose because a
foot exceeds two moras. Candidate (d) loses in spite of the fact
that it follows the default stress pattern of disyllabic words,
namely trochaic. Note the high ranking of FTBIN so far. TRO-
CHAIC also is one of the high-ranked constraints in CA. The
Tableau below demonstrates TROCHAIC dominating PARSE-σ.
In Tableau 3 candidate (a) bears stress on the left syllable in
the final (L, L) foot, following the trochaic rhythmic pattern.
Although candidate (b) satisfies PARSE-σ, it loses because it
violates a higher ranked constraint, Trochaic.
Foot construction proceeds from left to right, as mentioned
above. Tableau 4 demonstrates the constraints responsible for
the directionality of foot construction in CA.
The Tableau provides evidence that foot construction in CA
is aligned at the left edge of the word. Candidate (a) wins, as it
obeys high-ranked constraints namely, FTBIN, Troachiac, and
it does not violate AFL. Other candidates (b), (c), and (e) vio-
late AFL and the highly ranked FTBIN and Troachiac con-
straints. Candidate (d) does not obey AFL. It constructs the foot
on the right and has the stress on the left syllable of the final
disyllabic syllable.
The interaction between PARSE-σ and ALIGN-FOOT-L is
illustrated in Tableau 5.
Tableau 5 demonstrates PARSE-σ dominating AFL. Candi-
date (a) is the optimal one because it minimally violates PARSE-σ.
Candidate (b) loses to candidate (a) because, by satisfying AFL
and aligning all feet to the left edge of the word, three viola-
tions of PARSE-σ occur.
Tableau 1.
/mutaʕalliqaat/ ‘belongings’FTBIN PARSE-σ PARSE-SG
a. (muta)(ʕal)li(qáa)<t> * *
b. (muta)(ʕal)(li)(qáat) *W L L
c. (múta)(ʕal)li(qaat) **W *
Tableau 2.
FTBIN >> Trochaic (TR), PARSE-σ.
/banaa/ ‘he built it’ FTBIN TR PARSE-σ
a. ba (náa) *
b. (ba) (náa) *W *W L
c. (banáa) *W *W L
d. (bánaa) *W L L
Tableau 3.
Trochaic (TR), >> PARSE-σ.
/sabahlala/ ‘haphazardly’TR PARSE-σ
a. sa(bah)(lála) *
b. (sa)(bah)(lalá) *W L
Tableau 4
/šagara/ ‘tree’ FTBINTR AFL AFR PARSE-σ
a. (šága)ra * *
b. (šága)(ra) *W
*W L L
c. (ša)(gára) *W
*W L L
d. ša(gára) *W L *
e. ša(gará) *W *W L *
Tableau 5.
ʕàsaliyyáaya ‘kind of candy’ PARSE-σ AFL
a. (ʕàsa)(liy)(yáa)ya * **
b. (ʕàsa) liyyaaya ***W L
5The interested reader may refer to McCarthy (2008: p. 65).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 87
Returning to the role weight plays in stress assignment in CA,
we note from Tableau 6 that weight dominates PARSE-σ.
The optimal candidate in Tableau 6 is (a) because it does not
violate WSP, whereas candidate (b) does. Candidate (a) obeys
WSP while minimally violating PARSE-σ, a low-ranked con-
straint. Although candidate (b) fulfills PARSE-σ by parsing all
syllables of the word, it loses because it does not obey WSP;
stress is assigned to a light syllable (i.e., [títa]).
The interaction between FtBin and Wspis illustrated in Tab-
leau 7, which demonstrates that FtBin dominates WSP.
FTBIN favors candidate (a) over candidate (b). In candidate
(b) the stress moves to a heavy syllable, thus satisfying WSP,
but by parsing a degenerate foot [mu] FTBIN is violated. In fact
FTBIN is shown to dominate both WSP and PARSE-σ, a find-
ing in line with rankings already established in Tableau 1
above (FTBIN >> PARSE-σ).
Heavy syllables, as mentioned earlier, play a role in attract-
ing stress. However, a heavy syllable does not always attract
stress in CA words such as (cf. 1 a ii [(fí)(him)]). This suggests
that there is a more important constraint at play, which pres-
sures stress to fall on a light syllable rather than a heavy one as
long as the light syllable is among the last three rightmost syl-
lables of the word (see 000 [sa(bah)(lála)]). Tableau 8 demon-
strates the interaction between WSP and that of ALIGN-HEAD/
R, which is responsible for the main stress of a prosodic word.
Candidate (a) wins, although it does not fulfill WSP, since
stress falls on a light syllable (i.e., [ʕádi] instead of the preced-
ing antepenultimate heavy syllable [dal]. Candidate (b) obeys
WSP, but violates a higher-ranked constraint, ALIGN-HEAD/R,
and hence loses to the winner (a). The Tableau illustrates the
domination of ALIGN-HEAD/R over WSP.
Tableau 6.
inauguration WSP PARSE-σ
a. (ʔif)(tita)(ħíy)ya *
b. (ʔif)(títa)(ħiy)(ya) *W L
Tableau 7.
a. mu(sal)(sála) * *
b. (mu)(sál)(sala) *W L L
Tableau 8.
term used by wom en ALIGN-HEAD/R WSP
a. (ʔid)(dal)( ʕádi) *
b. (ʔid)(dál)( ʕadi) W L
While ALIGN-HEAD/R dominates WSP in the previous
tableau, ALIGN-HEAD/R also dominates PARSE-σ in Tab-
leau 9. The tableau demonstrates the direct ranking between
ALIGN-HEAD/R and PARSE-σ. Candidate (b) loses to candi-
date (a) because stress is not rightmost. Although candidate (b)
satisfies PARSE-σ by parsing every syllable of the word, it
loses because ALIGN-HEAD/R dominates PARSE-σ.
Thus, based on the analysis so far, we can rank the relevant
constraints as follows:
6) FTBIN >> Trochaic
So far FTBIN is undominated. ALIGN-HEAD/R is high ranked
and dominates lower-ranked constraints WSP, PARSE-σ, and
PARSE SG and AFL. Additionally, WSP dominates PARSE-σ,
and PARSE SG. A direct ranking between PARSE-σ and PARSE
SG cannot be established, since they are in a stringency relation,
(see Section 2.1 & endnote 5).
Three key rankings have not yet been established: Trochaic
and AFL. These are taken up in the next three sections.
FTBIN >> ALIGN-HEAD/R >> Trochaic
Stress is always Trochaic as in the examples in (1. a, i, ii, iii).
However, in words of more than two syllables, another con-
straint is at play. This constraint is ALIGN-HEAD/R, which
ensures that stress docks on one of the rightmost syllables.
Tableau 10 illustrates the ranking between ALIGN-HEAD/
R and Trochaic and shows that ALIGN-HEAD/R is higher and
dominates Trochaic.
The winner in (a) obeys FTBIN, ALIGN-HEAD/R and TRO-
CHAIC. Other candidates incur crucial violations with the re-
levant constraints. For example, candidate (b) does not obey
FTBIN, because it contains a degenerate foot [yá]. Candidate (c)
on the other hand, loses because it violates ALIGN-HEAD/R
by having the stress fall on the first syllable [Ɂís] and not on
one of the three rightmost ones. Candidate (d) loses because it
violates both FTBIN and ALIGN-HEAD/R, even though it
satisfies TROCHAIC. Based on the principles of combination
Tableau, both FTBIN and ALIGN-HEAD/R dominate TRO-
CHAIC because there are two (Ws) on the left of the (L) which
is in the TROCHAIC column of candidate (d).
Tableau 9.
‘strateg y’ ALIGN-HEAD/R PARSE-σ
a. (Ɂis)(tira)ti(jíy)ya **
b. (Ɂís)(tira)(ti)(jiy)(ya) *W L
Tableau 10.
FTBIN, ALIGN-HEAD/R>> Trochaic (TR).
a. (Ɂis)(tira)ti(jíy)ya
b. (Ɂis)(tira)ti(jiy)(yá) *W
c. (Ɂís)(tira)ti(jiy)ya
d. (Ɂis)(tíra)(tijiy)ya *W *W L
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 89
To sum up thus far, a direct ranking is found between the
ALIGN-HEAD/R and Trochaic constraints as illustrated in
Tableau 11, and between WSP and PARSE-σ, as demonstrated
in Tableau 8. But the ranking relationship between ALIGN-
HEAD/R and AFL still needs to be established. I propose that
ALIGN-HEAD/R dominates AFL transitively. We have seen in
Tableau 9 that ALIGN-HEAD/R dominates PARSE-σ, and in
Tableau 5 that PARSE-σ dominates AFL. Since ALIGN-HEAD/
R dominates PARSE-σ, and PARSE-σ dominates AFL, then it
is safe to assume that ALIGN-HEAD/R dominates AFL by
means of transitivity. I also propose for the interaction between
WSP and AFL that WSP dominates AFL by means of transitiv-
ity. In Tableau 6 WSP dominates PARSE-σ, and in Tableau 5
Parse-σ dominates AFL; therefore, the ranking WSP >> AFL
can be assumed by transitivity as well.
7) Primary Stress constraint hierarchy
As Tableau 11 demonstrates, certain constraints are un-domi-
nated and highly ranked. These are FOOTBINARITY, and
ALIGN HEAD/RIGHT. The data could not show a direct rela-
tionship between these two constraints, as illustrated by the
dashed lines. The inviolability of these constraints is also as-
serted in the literature. For example, Watson (2002) discussed
that CA does not allow a degenerate foot, and that a foot must
be of two moras (i.e., bimoraic). FOOTBINARITY specifies
that a foot must be bimoraic, and therefore; a syllable that has
one mora is not parsed to the higher prosodic constituent, namely
the foot. This explains why syllables e.g., ([mu] in [mu(sal)(sála)],
[mi] mi (šíi)], and [ra] in [(šága)ra]) are not parsed into the foot.
ALIGN HEAD/RIGHT, which stipulates that primary stress
must be on one of the three rightmost syllables, is also con-
firmed in the literature (Hayes, 1995; Kenstowicz, 1980; Mc-
Carthy, 1979, 1984; Watson, 2002). The other high ranked con-
straint is TROCHAIC. However, as observed, it is unlike the for-
mer un-dominated constraints, since it is dominated by ALIGN
The analysis also discussed WEIGHT TO STRESS con-
straint. The summary Tableau shows that this constraint, in con-
Tableau 11.
Summary table.
Optimal forms FTBIN sALIGN
(bàra) (níi)<tʕ> *
* * **
(Ɂis)(tira)ti(jíy)ya ** ** ***
(Ɂid)(dal)( ʕádi) *
(Ɂif)(tita)(ħíy)ya * ***
* ****
mi (šíi) * *
(mùta)(ʕal)li(qáa)<t> * *
junction with ALIGN HEAD/RIGHT, explains stress on heavy
penult syllables. WEIGHT TO STRESS constraint also domi
nates PARSE-σ. In fact, PARSE-σ is low ranked, and hence sylla-
bles that are of one mora are not parsed. With the analysis in
this paper, findings in the literature concerning primary stress in
CA are translated into an Optimality Theoretic framework il-
lustrating the interaction between stress constraints.
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