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The word discourse is pronounced with two different stress patterns, depending on the word class to which it belongs in the sentence being spoken.

  • In academic British English speech, the noun 'a discourse' normally has the stress on the first syllable: 'DIS-course' (IPA: /ˈdɪs kəʊrs/). (This is the principal pronunciation given in LPD, although OED gives it as second to the pattern like the verb.)
Although it once meant predominantly a speech - a long and serious formal kind of talk, like a sermon or a lecture, "the prevailing sense" is now "A spoken or written treatment of a subject, in which it is handled or discussed at length; a dissertation, treatise, homily, sermon, or the like" (OED; AWE's emphasis). It has become more common in modern academic studies as a result of the use of the term Discourse analysis in Linguistics. This refers to considering the structure of a text, either written or spoken, longer than a single sentence. (This is the usual subject of grammatical analysis.) Analysing a text at a level above that of the sentence involves, for example, looking at the structure of an argument, or the plot of a novel; it may include overall tone, such as irony or satire; it may look at the turn-taking, if the text is a conversation.
  • The verb 'to discourse' is stressed on the second syllable: 'dis-COURSE', IPA: /dɪs ˈkəʊrs/.
The verb is more commonly, but not exclusively, used of spoken than written language. OED's principal current meaning is "To hold discourse, to speak with another or others, talk, converse; to discuss a matter, confer", although it adds as a subordinate definition "to treat of in speech or writing".
This pattern of shifting stress in words that look identical but belong to two separate word classes is quite common in English.
Quirk (1985) (Appendix I.56 B) describes the most common: "When verbs of two syllables are converted into nouns, the stress is sometimes shifted from the second to the first syllable. The first syllable, typically a Latin prefix, often has a reduced vowel /ə/ in the verb but a full vowel in the noun: He was con-VICT-ed (IPA: /kən ˈvɪkt ɪd/) of theft, and so became a CON vict (IPA: /ˈkɒn vɪkt/)" [AWE's rendition of IPA].
There follows a list of some 57 "words having end-stress as verbs but initial stress as nouns in Br[itish] E[nglish]." Note that "in Am[erican] E[nglish], many have initial stress as verbs also". Quirk's list is the foundation of AWE's category:shift of stress. Additions have been made from, amongst others, Fowler, 1926-1996.