Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Prosody (linguistics)

Prosody (linguistics)

Ask a question about 'Prosody (linguistics)'
Start a new discussion about 'Prosody (linguistics)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
In linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, prosody is the rhythm, stress
Stress (linguistics)
In linguistics, stress is the relative emphasis that may be given to certain syllables in a word, or to certain words in a phrase or sentence. The term is also used for similar patterns of phonetic prominence inside syllables. The word accent is sometimes also used with this sense.The stress placed...

, and intonation
Intonation (linguistics)
In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. It contrasts with tone, in which pitch variation does distinguish words. Intonation, rhythm, and stress are the three main elements of linguistic prosody...

 of speech
Speech is the human faculty of speaking.It may also refer to:* Public speaking, the process of speaking to a group of people* Manner of articulation, how the body parts involved in making speech are manipulated...

. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or choice of vocabulary.

Acoustic attributes of prosody

In terms of acoustics
Acoustics is the interdisciplinary science that deals with the study of all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound. A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician while someone working in the field of acoustics...

, the prosodics of oral languages involve variation in syllable length, loudness
Loudness is the quality of a sound that is primarily a psychological correlate of physical strength . More formally, it is defined as "that attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which sounds can be ordered on a scale extending from quiet to loud."Loudness, a subjective measure, is often...

, pitch
Pitch (music)
Pitch is an auditory perceptual property that allows the ordering of sounds on a frequency-related scale.Pitches are compared as "higher" and "lower" in the sense associated with musical melodies,...

, and the formant
Formants are defined by Gunnar Fant as 'the spectral peaks of the sound spectrum |P|' of the voice. In speech science and phonetics, formant is also used to mean an acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract...

 frequencies of speech sounds. In sign languages, prosody involves the rhythm, length, and tension of gestures, along with mouthing and facial expressions. Prosody is typically absent in writing, which can occasionally result in reader misunderstanding. Orthographic
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 conventions to mark or substitute for prosody include punctuation
Punctuation marks are symbols that indicate the structure and organization of written language, as well as intonation and pauses to be observed when reading aloud.In written English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences...

 (commas, exclamation marks, question marks, scare quotes, and ellipses
Ellipsis is a series of marks that usually indicate an intentional omission of a word, sentence or whole section from the original text being quoted. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence...

), and typographic styling for emphasis
Emphasis (typography)
In typography, emphasis is the exaggeration of words in a text with a font in a different style from the rest of the text—to emphasize them.- Methods and use :...

 (italic, bold, and underlined text).

The details of a language's prosody depend upon its phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

. For instance, in a language with phonemic
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

 vowel length
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

, this must be marked separately from prosodic syllable length. In similar manner, prosodic pitch must not obscure tone
Tone (linguistics)
Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning—that is, to distinguish or inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information, and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called...

 in a tone language if the result is to be intelligible. Although tone languages such as Mandarin have prosodic pitch variations in the course of a sentence, such variations are long and smooth contours, on which the short and sharp lexical tones are superimposed. If pitch can be compared to ocean waves, the swells are the prosody, and the wind-blown ripples in their surface are the lexical tones, as with stress in English. The word dessert has greater stress on the second syllable, compared to the noun desert, which has greater stress on the first; but this distinction is not obscured when the entire word is stressed by a child demanding "Give me dessert!" Vowels in many languages are likewise pronounced differently (typically less centrally) in a careful rhythm or when a word is emphasized, but not so much as to overlap with the formant
Formants are defined by Gunnar Fant as 'the spectral peaks of the sound spectrum |P|' of the voice. In speech science and phonetics, formant is also used to mean an acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract...

 structure of a different vowel. Both lexical and prosodic information are encoded in rhythm, loudness, pitch, and vowel formants.

The prosodic domain

Prosodic features are suprasegmental. They are not confined to any one segment
Segment (linguistics)
In linguistics , the term segment may be defined as "any discrete unit that can be identified, either physically or auditorily, in the stream of speech."- Classifying speech units :...

, but occur in some higher level of an utterance. These prosodic unit
Prosodic unit
In linguistics, a prosodic unit, often called an intonation unit or intonational phrase, is a segment of speech that occurs with a single prosodic contour...

s are the actual phonetic "spurts", or chunks of speech. They need not correspond to grammatical units such as phrases and clauses, though they may; and these facts suggest insights into how the brain processes speech.

Prosodic units are marked by phonetic cues, such as a coherent pitch contour
Pitch contour
In linguistics, speech synthesis, and music, the pitch contour of a sound is a function or curve that tracks the perceived pitch of the sound over time....

 – or the gradual decline in pitch and lengthening of vowels over the duration of the unit, until the pitch and speed are reset to begin the next unit. Breathing, both inhalation and exhalation, seems to occur only at these boundaries where the prosody resets.

"Prosodic structure" is important in language contact and lexical borrowing. For example, in Modern Hebrew
Modern Hebrew
Modern Hebrew , also known as Israeli Hebrew or Modern Israeli Hebrew, is the language spoken in Israel and in some Jewish communities worldwide, from the early 20th century to the present....

, the XiXéX verb-template is much more productive than the XaXáX verb-template because in morphemic adaptations of non-Hebrew stems, the XiXéX verb-template is more likely to retain – in all conjugations throughout the tenses – the prosodic structure (e.g., the consonant clusters and the location of the vowels) of the stem.

Prosody and emotion

Emotional prosody is the expression of feelings using prosodic elements of speech. It was considered by Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 in The Descent of Man to predate the evolution of human language
Evolutionary linguistics
Evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language. The main challenge in this research is the lack of empirical data: spoken language leaves practically no traces. This led to an abandonment of the field for more than a century...

: "Even monkeys express strong feelings in different tones – anger and impatience by low, – fear and pain by high notes." Native speakers
First language
A first language is the language a person has learned from birth or within the critical period, or that a person speaks the best and so is often the basis for sociolinguistic identity...

 listening to actors reading emotionally neutral text while projecting emotions correctly recognized happiness 62% of the time, anger 95%, surprise 91%, sadness 81%, and neutral tone 76%. When a database of this speech was processed by computer, segmental features allowed better than 90% recognition of happiness and anger, while suprasegmental prosodic features allowed only 44%–49% recognition. The reverse was true for surprise, which was recognized only 69% of the time by segmental features and 96% of the time by suprasegmental prosody. In typical conversation (no actor voice involved), the recognition of emotion may be quite low, of the order of 50%, hampering the complex interrelationship function of speech advocated by some authors.

Brain location of prosody

An aprosodia
Aprosodia is a neurological condition characterized by the inability of a person to properly convey or interpret emotional prosody. Prosody in language refers to the ranges of rhythm, pitch, stress, intonation, etc. These neurological deficits can be the result of damage of some form to the...

 is an acquired or developmental impairment in comprehending or generating the emotion conveyed in spoken language. This is seen sometimes in persons with Asperger syndrome.

Producing these nonverbal elements requires intact motor areas of the face, mouth, tongue, and throat. This area is associated with Brodmann areas 44 and 45 (Broca's area
Broca's area
Broca's area is a region of the hominid brain with functions linked to speech production.The production of language has been linked to the Broca’s area since Pierre Paul Broca reported impairments in two patients. They had lost the ability to speak after injury to the posterior inferior frontal...

) of the left frontal lobe
Frontal lobe
The frontal lobe is an area in the brain of humans and other mammals, located at the front of each cerebral hemisphere and positioned anterior to the parietal lobe and superior and anterior to the temporal lobes...

. Damage to areas 44/45 produces motor aprosodia, with the nonverbal elements of speech being disturbed (facial expression, tone, rhythm of voice).

Understanding these nonverbal elements requires an intact and properly functioning Brodmann area 22
Brodmann area 22
Brodmann area 22 is one of Brodmann's cytologically defined regions of the brain. It is involved in auditory processing.-Human:Brodmann area 22 is a region of the human brain . On the left side of the brain this area helps with generation and understanding of individual words...

 (Wernicke's area
Wernicke's area
Wernicke's area is one of the two parts of the cerebral cortex linked since the late nineteenth century to speech . It is involved in the understanding of written and spoken language...

) in the right hemisphere. Right-hemispheric area 22 aids in the interpretation of prosody, and damage causes sensory aprosodia, with the patient unable to comprehend changes in voice and body language .

Prosody is dealt with by a right-hemisphere network that is largely a mirror image of the left perisylvian zone. Damage to the right inferior frontal gyrus causes a diminished ability to convey emotion or emphasis by voice or gesture, and damage to right superior temporal gyrus causes problems comprehending emotion or emphasis in the voice or gestures of others.

See also

  • Intonation
    Intonation (linguistics)
    In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. It contrasts with tone, in which pitch variation does distinguish words. Intonation, rhythm, and stress are the three main elements of linguistic prosody...

  • Phonological hierarchy
    Phonological hierarchy
    Phonological hierarchy describes a series of increasingly smaller regions of a phonological utterance. From larger to smaller units, it is as follows:#Utterance#Prosodic declination unit / intonational phrase...

  • Prosody (poetry)

Further reading

External links