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About three decades ago I read a book on English usage that was already quite old at the time—I think it was a 1940s book—which pointed out a pronunciational habit that I hadn't noticed before. The word "street" in any location name would have the stress on the other word—BOND Street, OXFORD Street, DEAN Street—while with any other kind of generic topographical descriptor it would be the other way round: Hyde PARK, Leicester SQUARE, Angel LANE, Dollis HILL, Edgware ROAD, Portland PLACE, Crouch END.

The book limited itself to UK referents, but it seemed to me the same was true elsewhere. In the US people would say, FOURTH Street, TENTH Street, etc, but Madison AVENUE, Times SQUARE, Central PARK, Dealey PLAZA. And I think all other English-speaking countries followed the same rule. It was even true of fictional names with a figurative purpose: GRUB Street, EASY Street, but Fat CITY, Lonesome ROAD, Tin Pan ALLEY...

But I wondered whether it was still true today, or completely true. Because I do notice one strange pronunciational development, which I think of as the "leftward-drifting stress". This is more noticeable in the US than elsewhere. I've seen pre-war American films where people can be clearly heard talking of cigarETTES and magaZINES, in contrast to modern renderings, CIGarettes and MAGazines. More recently, we've had olive OIL and soy SAUCE becoming OLIVE oil and SOY sauce. One of the clear-up crew after the Twin Towers attack spoke of "powdered CEment" (and he wasn't even from the south, where you might expect it). And only last week I heard a news report mentioning PAKistan and BANGladesh. There seems to be this trend of shifting stresses leftwards of where they are supposed to be, and I wondered if this might start infecting the pronunciation of the kind of place names I listed above. Is anyone tempted to say, "I visited TIMES Square"?

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    In the U.S., in New Jersey, at least, I wouldn't say River ROAD, but RIVer road (or, say, LAWrenceville-PENnington road). I think it's that street and road are the default values there, and we don't stress defaults. – Peter Shor Apr 6 '14 at 17:03
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    Anecdotally, it’s certainly not true for me. Hyde Park, Leicester Square, Angel Lane, Dollis Hill, Edgware Road, Portland Place, and Crouch End (and any other similar examples) all have two main stresses for me, or even a main stress on the name and a secondary stress on the ‘locationeme’. The ones with ‘street’ do only have one stress, though, not two, so there is still a distinction to me. It’s just not the one you describe from the book. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 6 '14 at 17:03
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    Stress drifts leftward in nouns and rightward in verbs (especially in two-syllable words). – Peter Shor Apr 6 '14 at 17:07
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    I'm an American who lived in Oxford for two years as a teenager. One of the giveaways that I was American was that I was not accenting "Road", as in COWley road, GRANville road, WOODstock road. The other kids said COWley ROAD, GRANville ROAD, and so on. As I recall, the only type of thoroughfare in the UK that didn't get that accent was "street". In the US, my experience is the same except in the case of "road", which doesn't get the accent either. For example, I grew up on the corner of PARK AVenue and RIVerside DRIVE. – BobRodes Apr 8 '14 at 13:07
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    "this trend of shifting stresses leftwards of where they are supposed to be…" Supposed to be? – stib Apr 10 '14 at 7:48
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I'll contribute my share of anecdotal evidence. I'm from the U.S. (Massachusetts), and I pronounce street names as the book describes (CEDAR Street, Pilgrim ROAD, etc.). However, I do notice the leftward shift (I say OLIVE oil, for instance).

  • Having moved from New Jersey to the Boston area, I stress road in some Massachusetts street names with road in them (e.g. SOLdiers field ROAD). I don't stress them all (e.g., CLIFF road), but that's probably because I'm still using the New Jersey pronunciation, where street and road are not stressed, for streets I haven't heard pronounced reasonably often. – Peter Shor Apr 24 '14 at 14:56
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I'm English. I grew up in Sheffield (northern accent and slight dialect), and have lived a while in Cambridge (prestige dialect of english) and London (random melting pot). My unconscious voice wanders around all three, and I can fake all of them

I think in all those places it would be CHESTerton ROAD, REGent street, CITY ROAD, vicTORia AVEnue, CATHerine street.

Which is to say, "street" is never stressed, and it would instantly mark you out as a foreigner if you did stress it, but all others get one stressed syllable per word, and the stress is roughly even between the two words.

Sometimes there does seems to be a slightly stronger stress on the second word, (Hyde PARK, but BATTersea PArk), but it's subtle, slightly different for each place, and it doesn't sound wrong if you do it the other way!

One place you'd always strongly stress the second word would be a query like 'Do you mean victoria ROAD, victoria STREET or victoria AVEnue?'

  • First, as a Yorkshire native who lives in Merseyside and works in London, I agree with John Lawrence Aspden that 'street' is the only 'location-meme' that never carries stress [except in that special case of resolving ambiguity]. This seems to be UK-wide, but why? My suggestion is that although, e.g., 'road' is an ancient word, the first named roads were streets, thanks to the Romans: Watling Street, Ermine Street, etc., and have therefore been pronounced as one word for centuries; 'Coronation Street' pronounced as if 'Coronationstreet'. – David Garner Feb 25 '15 at 12:08

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