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The words "defense" and "repeat" are more and more frequently being pronounced DE-fense and RE-peat; i.e., with the accent on the first syllable rather than the second. They seem to have originated in sports broadcasting ("The 49er DE-fense has broken down; the Lakers are hoping for a RE-peat of their last road trip") and carried over to everyday usage. I am curious as to whether these mispronunciations are as common in the UK as they are in the U.S.

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    Repeat is only accented on the first syllable if it is a noun. This is quite typical when a verb gets nouned. See Wikipedia. Feb 23, 2014 at 22:34
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    @Peter indirectly gives the answer: deriving a noun from a verb by moving the stress to the first syllable is quite a common process in English. In some cases, like repeat or defence, there are nouns that happen to be stressed like their corresponding verbs—something that appears systematically irregular. What could be simpler than to move the stress to the first syllable in order to make them fit the system better? This is known as analogy and is one of the main driving forces of language change. Feb 23, 2014 at 22:46
  • @Peter: Is it actually the norm for Americans to stress the first syllable in (noun) "repeat"? In BrE I'd only expect this to be done with "offence/defence" when the two words are being contrasted with each other, and it would be virtually unheard-of to do that with "repeat" because there's nothing like a "peat" against which to contrast. Feb 23, 2014 at 22:49
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    "RE-peat" as a noun is common in the US in a variety of contexts ("I wanted to watch some TV tonight, but everything's a RE-peat"), but I've never heard "DE-fense" outside the context of sports--or really, I'm not sure I've ever heard it outside the context of American football, specifically.
    – phenry
    Feb 24, 2014 at 0:16
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    There are some local lects in the US characterized by widespread shifting of noun stress to first syllable. Typical words are POlice, UMbrella, INsurance, CIGarette etc. They're sometimes called "P/U" dialects as a mnemonic for POlice UMbrella Feb 24, 2014 at 0:38

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In his initial comment, Peter Shor indirectly gives the answer: deriving a noun from a verb by moving the stress to the first syllable is quite a common process in English.

In some cases, like repeat or defence, there are nouns that happen to be stressed like their corresponding verbs—something that does not fit the general, productive system and therefore appears to be irregular to some speakers. But what could be simpler than to move the stress to the first syllable, and thereby make them fit the productive system?

The process underlying this regularisation is known as analogy (subconsciously knowing and recognising a regular pattern, and then tweaking away at forms and paradigms that don’t fit this pattern until they do and become regular). It is one of the two main driving forces of how languages change, along with sound change (or sound laws). The latter is the more or less unconditioned development of one sound into another (or none at all) in a specific environment, which often makes what was before a regular form/paradigm look suddenly irregular. When this happens, the language becomes more irregular and harder to keep in your head—enter analogy, to make things nice and easy again.

Sadly, there is no way of predicting or structuring sound change and analogy—sometimes one takes over in a language for a while; sometimes the other; and sometimes both go hand in hand.

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  • So the noun versus verb pronunciation rule also holds when both are different words? (In this case, defense versus defend)
    – Bananach
    Aug 14, 2018 at 6:13
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    @Bananach It’s not really a rule at all, but yes: as long as the verb and the noun are clearly related, as defend and defence obviously are, then the pattern of stressing the noun on the first syllable can be applied. Aug 14, 2018 at 6:54

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