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Accent or Prosody

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This fallacy arises from a false accent or a false emphasis in speech. A false stress of voice is placed upon a given word in order to mislead, confuse, or produce a wrong interpretation. Accent fallacies are fallacies that depend on where the stress is placed in a word or sentence. The meaning of a set of words may be dramatically changed by the way they are spoken, without changing any of the words themselves. Accent fallacies are a type of equivocation.

Here’s an example:

A dessẻrt is a course of fruit served after the meal;
But, a dẻsert is a forsaken region;
Therefore, a forsaken region is a course of fruit served after meal.

In the major premise, dessert which has its stress on the second syllable means “a course of fruit served after the meal”; In the minor premise, where the stress is on the first syllable, the term means “a forsaken region”. A change in stress of the word spells a chang in meaning. (Note: The difference in meaning may be overlooked if the argument is spoken.) I rẻsent the letter.

I resẻnt the letter.

This sentence could mean either that one sent the letter again, or that one has a feeling of resentment towards it. So, the sentence could be a boopy trap.

No husbands please.
This sentence could mean either that no husbands make people happy. (No husbands please), or that husbands are not allowed to get in (No husbands please).

Another Example:

1. Suppose that two people are debating whether a rumour about the actions of a third person is true. The first says, “I can imagine him doing that; it’s possible.”

The second replies, “Yes, it’s possible to imagine him doing that.” This looks like agreement.

If however, the second person stresses the word imagine, then this appearance vanishes; “Yes, it’s possible to imagine him doing that.” This now sounds like a pointed comment meaning that though it may just about be possible to imagine him doing that, there’s no way that he would actually do it.

2. My spouse must be cheating on me – he told me “I don’t really love you now.” In the above example, the conclusion depends upon placing the stress on the word you, thus indicating that someone else is loved now. But if we place the stress on other words, like really or love, different shades of meaning become evident. Perhaps the person has simply grown tired of the relationship, for example. 3. Why are you asking me about Mary’s message? I resent her question. What is meant by the above passage? In its written form, it could either mean that the writer was upset about the question Mary asked and didn’t want to talk about it, or it could be that the question had been sent out again and the speaker is waiting for a reply. The different meanings depend upon where the (spoken) stress is placed in the word “resent.”

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