I heard this phrase in a TV show: "I'm sort of busy right now". You can listen it here (I cut out the phrase): https://clyp.it/4khla44l

Phonetically it looks like: [ɑɪm soərt əv bɪzi raɪt naʊ]. The words "sort" and "of" can be linked together, because of the consonant + vowel. But this is not what I'm interested in.

I can hear some stress on the word "sort" and "busy". I think "busy" gets the most stress when pronounced. Am I right? But what about the ending words "right now"? It seems to me they don't get any stress, or there is little stress on the word "now".

I would be grateful for any suggestion! Thank you.

  • 2
    It would be unusual for the speaker to place any significant stress on sort of. This could only imply that he's not very busy, and that he intends (or is willing to be persuaded) to discount that factor and help the other person as requested. And placing stress on right now would only be appropriate if the speaker wishes to convey the subtext that he will be willing to help at some future time, but not right now. Surely this is how stress/emphasis works in all languages? – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '15 at 13:32

The emphasis indicates the crucial part of the sentence. You could put the emphasis in lots of different places, depending on what you want to .... emphasize.

I'm sort of busy right now"

I am busy, but perhaps I know of another person who could help you.

I'm sort of busy right now.

I am a little bit busy, but I might be able to help you if it won't take very long, or you can convince me it is super important.

I'm sort of busy right now.

I am busy. With light stress, this is the default way one might pronounce the sentence.
With heavy stress, it might mean: Although I said I am sort of busy, I am actually very busy.

Maybe even: You are treating me as if I am not busy, but you should be able to tell that I am.

I'm sort of busy right now.

I am busy now, but I might have time to help you later, if you can wait for a little while.

  • 1
    The classic movie/TV use of heavy stress on busy - the hero is fighting for his life, his cell phone rings, and it's somebody with a fairly trivial question. The conflict between the triviality of the caller and the understatement of "busy" are an action/comedy cliché. – WhatRoughBeast Feb 18 '15 at 3:03

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