Is it true that when pronouncing "I can do that" in American English when the "can" is stressed, there is a slight delay between the "can" and "do" and the primary stress is usually on I, while in "I can't do that" the primary stress is on "can't" and there is no delay?

Talking about cases with only one stress.

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  • 2
    You should edit your question to be clearer. If you stress can, you don't stress I (which is what I think you mean, but not what you've said). – Peter Shor Nov 24 '17 at 13:33
  • I can't do that can take different stresses: compare I can't do that, but you can; I can't do that. I don't know how; I can't do that, but I can do something better. Even the do can take the stress but a clear example is harder to write down – Chris H Nov 24 '17 at 13:50
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    The stress goes on the word that the speaker most wishes to emphasise in the specific context. So any of the words in I can do that might carry heavy stress, depending on whether the speaker wishes to emphasise the he (as opposed to someone else) can do it, that he can (as opposed to being unable to) do it, etc. It's a bit contrived, but perfectly possible, to emphasise that you can do something (as opposed to simply talk about doing it, for example). – FumbleFingers Nov 24 '17 at 13:51
  • One might very well stress "that". – Hot Licks Nov 24 '17 at 15:14
  • There's no "delay". The vowel is shorter in can't than in can, because it's before a non-voiced consonant. – Peter Shor Nov 24 '17 at 19:07

In an unmarked pronunciation (so therefore a pronunciation with no contrastive stress) the two sentences would be pronounced as follows, where an apostrophe ['] premarks a stressed syllable:

  • /aɪ kən 'du: ðæt/ I can do that
  • /aɪ 'kænʔ 'du: ðæt/ I can't do that

The white space between the words above doesn't indicate any sort of gap or silence. There is no pause here between the [n] in /kən/ and the [d] in /du:/ in the first example. Notice that if there is no contrastive stress, the pronoun I is unstressed.

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