How Prosody Works?

What is prosody?

Simply put, it’s the “music” of a language. 

More specifically, it’s the aspect of language that gives prominence to certain parts of words and phrases over others. To learn the 3 features that drive the prosody of your speech and the functions they serve in your everyday interactions, read on!

There are 3 main features of prosody

Here they are:

What you perceive How it’s measured acoustically
Loudness (soft-loud)
Sound intensity, or amplitude (decibels)
Pitch (low-high)
Fundamental frequency (hertz)
Duration (short-long)
Duration (milliseconds)

Loudness, pitch, and duration – that’s really it! 

Let’s look at an example. Say aloud the word entrance (to a house) and (to) entrance? What differences did you notice in your prosody? 

If you’re like most people, you put more emphasis on the first syllable of entrance (to a house), and you put more emphasis on the second syllable of (to) entrance. And you did it through some combination of the three main features of prosody. In other words, you made the target syllable comparatively louder, higher in pitch, and/or longer in duration than the other syllable. 

That’s prosody at the word level. But we also have prosody at play at the sentence level. Linguists call this bigger pattern of prosody the intonational phrase. For instance, we generally end declarative statements with a falling tone and questions with a rising tone.

Did you know? Now while the three main prosodic features can fluctuate independently of one another, there are some known correlations between them. Try this: say your name at a normal sound level, then try yelling it. Your pitch probably got higher when you yelled it because louder sounds tend to correlate with higher pitch. 

How do we use prosody?

Let’s review the takeaways

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Meet The Author:
Author - Emily Rae Sabo
Emily Rae Sabo
Linguist at Mango Languages
Emily Sabo (Ph.D., University of Michigan): A travel-hungry content creator with a Linguistics Ph.D. in bilingual language processing, Emily has studied 7 languages and loves getting to use them to connect with people around the world. When she’s not creating content for the Mango community, you can find her dancing, yoga-ing, or performing some good ole’ fashioned standup comedy.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

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