English Phonetics

Let me borrow your brains for a bit.

Suppose we were to consider a prominent word in a sentence as the one carrying the most relevant meaning. Say, a man says to his wife “I am going” while stepping out of the house. The who in this case is a given or at least not necessary to specify, the context makes it obvious who is performing the action. The most relevant part is the action itself, “going”, therefore that is the prominent word.

If, instead, there was an argument among people over who would go (somewhere) and perform a task, the speaker might say “I am going”. As the “going” would be implicit (It’s what they’re all arguing about in the first palce), the importance lies on WHO performs the action.

This is basically the first unit of my English Phonetics II course crunched into two paragraphs.

Now figure this out for me:

“Who are you”.

It’s a simple question, but the prominence makes no sense. No matter the context, whether it is businesslike or a surprise/suspicious “Who (THE HELL) are you”, the prominence remains in the BE, while the obvious importance of the question lies on the WHO.

Why the hell does this happen?

In casual speech, an American who said “Who are you?” would place primary emphasis on “you” and secondary emphasis on “who.” To say “Who <i>are</i> you?” is to suggest that a) you are not who I thought you were, or b) I am really puzzled by your identity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if what you’re describing were a British thing. Like the quirky way British intonation falls on asking a question.

Whoooooooooooooo are you, who who, who who
Whoooooooooooooo are you, who who, who who


Yeah, what Xwing said is the most common way americans say it. Some of us - myself included - put equal emphasis on the words who and you, or no particular emphasis on any word.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, but that sort of emphasis is only important when something you say can be taken in a completely different context depending on the inflection, like “I am going.”

This pretty much covers it. a) also sorts of fits into b), in that you’re puzzled by the currently unknown identity of someone, and you really want to know.

Prominence on “are” because you are interested in the essential qualities (of your interlocutor) the verb conveys? /not a linguist

The importance of the question isn’t on the who. The who is implied by the fact that you’re asking that person.

You’re just confused.

Yeah, I guess Xwing got it, I am most accustomed to British’s manner of speech. What he and Cless mentioned is the rationalization I also made for putting prominence there, but I got confused by how ARE was still prominent when that meaning was NOT what was intended. It’s probably a quirk.

Just a tidbit: This is totally impossible in regular speech unless you’re actively trying not to make anything prominent, and if you do manage to pull it off, you’ll sound awkward as shit. You probably won’t notice it unless you’re looking for it specifically and are trained to do distinguish it, but perfectly level utterances with no prominence anywhere are terribly unnatural and definitely not something you’ll do subconsciously. There’s a difference between prominence and high-key (Which is what I guess you’re thinking of).

That’s wrong on several levels: First, what you’re saying right here is that the direction of the question (YOU) is what’s implied, not the interrogative element (WHO). This is also wholly dependant on context: The direction takes particular importance if the speaker would wish to particularize it and give it a sense of “I’m asking YOU, not someone else”, or like in an exchange such as:

A: “Who are you?”
B: “I’m X, who are YOU?”

Second, in a situation in which the question is merely that of someone inquiring about somebody else’s identity with no added meaning to it, the WHO is indeed the relevant element simply by nature of being the one carrying the interrogative force as well as the specific nature of the question (WHO, not WHERE/WHEN/WHY/etc). Or by elimination: If it’s not direction or action, it’ll be interrogative force. You’ll end up picking one either way.

Yeah, you’re pretty confused. The who and the you are both definitely implied. That’s why the emphasis falls to the are.

The person is asking “Who ARE you?” as opposed to “Who <i>xyz</i> you?” The “are” is the determining part of the sentence and deserves the emphasis in that context.

So yeah, you’re wrong about the prominence making no sense no matter the context. There are plenty of logical places to say ask that question in that way, and to answer your question about why that happens, all I have to say is “because it should.”

“Who” is not implied, and certainly not unimportant. Try taking out the two other words and seeing if you can still make some sense of what the speaker is trying to say based solely on the last word.

It’s especially important when you remember that “Are you” is a question in and of itself. Hell, even just “You?” can be a question, depending on what’s gone before you.

And yeah, SE, pretty much the emphasis goes on the ‘are’ over here in Ireland too, I think because we do feel that’s the most important word if we’re just inquiring. If we’re being aggressive, the emphasis changes to the ‘who’ and ‘you’ though.

The “Are” here would be the verb/auxiliary verb (depending on which grammarian you ask) expressing BEING. It’s true that it can be given emphasis in certain contexts, that’s already being repeatedly been brought up, but in a neutral context with no preconceived expectations, you’d place the emphasis on the nature of the question, not the direction or action, simply because it’s the introduction of the construction in the context.

What? I’ve never said anything even remotely close to that. In fact, I’ve already addressed Xwing and Cless’ mentions of the situations in which that is precisely where prominence should be.

You’ve somehow, and the how of it baffles me, managed to completely misunderstand everything I’ve said.

Chalk it up to English Phonetics.