I am working on a sonnet. This pretty much mandates the use of iambic pentameter and therefore requires that I have a good grip on emphasis.
However, I’m not exactly sure how to properly research words for emphasis. I was attempting to comprehend Merriam-Webster’s Pronunciation Guide, but that just further confused me.
Merriam-Webster has a system for indicating the stressing of syllables; almost every page has a set of symbols delimited by backslashes, describing the word’s emphasis.
I was wondering if anyone experienced in the emphasis and or word pronunciation could help me understand this notation with an example or two.
I highly recommend Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled”. He starts by explaining the various rhythms of iambic pentameter, including all the various substitutions and how to use them effectively, and provides exercises to help you.
I wrote a poem about software development in Iambic Pentameter recently after reading this book. Iambic pentameter normally follows this rhythm:
da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA
Or, using the notation you suggested:
da da’ da da’ da da’ da da’ da da’
An iamb is a foot, and there are five of them, hence pentameter. You can occasionally substitute the iambs, and it’s also OK to put a falling note after the last iamb since most words in English end that way. Hopefully my poem provides you with some examples of this, but I would still recommend the book.