An Introduction to Prosody

  • October 5, 2018
There are different branches of linguistics that deal with sounds and all of their unique aspects. One branch in particular, known as prosody, is the study of bigger speech sound units and syllables. In linguistics, prosody helps you to better understand subjects such as intonation, rhythm, stress and tone. To clarify: intonation is the variety of spoken pitches to convey specific attitudes and emotions that a speaker has. Rhythm is defined as the regularity of speech units. Stress is the emphasis that is placed on a particular word, or syllable, and stress can be expressed through changes such as pitch. Last but not least, tone is the variety of spoken pitches to convey different meanings of words. In a tonal language, you can change the meaning of a word by changing the pitch of your voice when you say that word. For example, the language Hmong has seven to eight tones, depending on dialect of the language you are talking about. This means that there are up to seven to eight different meanings for every word in the language. According to “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language Second Edition” by David Crystal, tones are used for grammatical reasons, and there are also two different kinds of tones. In the language Bini, one low tone is used for the present tense, while one high or high-low tone is used for the past tense. The two different kinds of tones are gliding and register. Languages that use gliding tones, tones that remain at one pitch level, are known as contour tone languages. Register tone languages have tones that change in their pitch levels. Mandarin Chinese and Thai are two examples of contour tone languages, and Hausa and Zulu are two examples of register tone languages. Intonation in particular has different uses, and in my opinion, transcribing intonation is especially intriguing. These uses include, but are not limited to, expressing a wide variety of emotions, giving grammatical cues (such as contrasting questions with exclamations), giving listeners new information, making it simpler for listeners to remember and understand what is being said to them, and identifying people with certain groups of people. This is particularly interesting because of the several different ways in which it can be done. What is important to know about Prosodic Features is that they appear when we form sounds that go with each other in our speech. For native speakers, this often comes naturally, but for non-native speakers, more effort may be involved. According to Teaching English, it is important to teach English learners about Prosodic Features so that they can communicate with others well. The three aspects of communication, which are intonation, rhythm and stress are all reliant on the correct usage of Prosodic Features, which makes them just as crucial to properly pronouncing words. You will need to be capable of using these prosodic features and pronouncing words correctly if you want to speak well. Whether we realize it or not, prosody is a part of our everyday lives, and we use it to communicate with others more than we might know. Photo by Stephanie Kiang.
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