Prosody and Other Speech Features

Hi everyone

I recently have had a lot of evaluations where the prosody and other aspects of speech have been atypical. I thought this was a great opportunity for me to spread the word on all of the other factors that play a role in how we perceive speech. Speech is not just making sounds the correct way or using the correct syntax…it is so much more! 

A contrastive pitch of syllables in which conveys part of meaning of a word. In languages such as Mandarin, the pronunciation of two words may be the same except the pitch difference. For example, [ma] pronounced with a high-level tone means “mother”, and with a high falling tone means “scold”. In Cantonese, [ma] produced with a high-level tone means “mother” too, but with a low-mid to mid rising tone means “a horse”. Click here to see more Cantonese tone example.

Intonation (linguistics)
Intonation is the variation of pitch when speaking. Intonation and stress are two main elements of linguistic prosody.

Many languages use pitch syntactically, for instance to convey surprise and irony or to change a statement to a question. Such languages are called intonation languages. English and French are well-known examples. Some languages use pitch to distinguish words; these are known as tonal languages. Thai and Hausa are examples. An intermediate position is occupied by languages with tonal word accent, for instance Norwegian or Japanese.

The use of varying pitch to convey meaning. If the same utterences are produced with different intonation, the meaning conveyed will be different. For example, in English, the utterence it is a cat will be regarded as a statement when there is a fall in pitch, and the utterence will be regarded as a question if the pitch rises.

It is a cat. (pitch falls)

It is a cat? (pitch rises)

Rising intonation means the pitch of the voice increases over time; falling intonation means that the pitch decreases with time. A dipping intonationfalls and then rises, whereas a peaking intonation rises and then falls.

The classic example of intonation is the question/statement distinction. For example, northeastern American English, like very many languages (Hirst & DiCristo, eds. 1998), has a rising intonation for echo or declarative questions (He found it on the street?), and a falling intonation for wh- questions (Where did he find it?) and statements (He found it on the street.). Yes/no questions (Did he find it on the street?) often have a rising end, but not always. The Chickasaw language has the opposite pattern, rising for statements and falling with questions.

Stress is to produce a syllable with relatively greater length, loudness, and/or higher pitch in which extra respiratory energy is needed. In languages such as English, stress may involve in linguistic function and cause difference in syntactic category such as noun or verb. Here shows some examples:

Word – Verb – Noun 
object – ob’ject – ‘object
subject – sub’ject – ‘subject
record – re’cord – ‘record
digest – di’gest – ‘digest
abstract – ab’stract – ‘abstract
segment – seg’ment – ‘segment
survey – sur’vey – ‘survey

Taken from:

So when you’re listening to someone’s speech…think about all the other factors that can determine how you perceive and interact with that person. You might be surprised how many different things impact speech!



One thought on “Prosody and Other Speech Features

  1. Pingback: Prosody | English Grammar

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