Prosody posts

« previous post | next post »

In the context of the current political season, I've started taking a look at rhetorical styles, including the aspects of rhythm, pitch, and voice quality for which linguists generally use the cover term "prosody". Our enormously over-long list of topic categories didn't include "prosody", so I've added it — and in the process of labeling relevant posts, I made a (probably still incomplete) list of linked titles and dates, which is reproduced below.

The OED glosses prosody as  "The theory and practice of versification", and secondarily as "A suprasegmental phonological feature such as intonation and stress. Also: such features collectively; the patterns of stress and intonation in a language." The OED's etymology:

 < Middle French prosodie (French prosodie ) rules for pronouncing words and phrases (c1400), regular pronunciation of words according to accent and quantity (1562), rules relating to the quantity of vowels, a treatise on this (1573) and its etymon classical Latin prosōdia accent of a syllable < ancient Greek προσῳδία song sung to music, variation in pitch of the speaking voice, pronunciation of a syllable on a certain pitch, in Byzantine Greek also mark to indicate differences of pronunciation < πρός to (also toward, close to, approaching to, in addition; < earlier προτί to, toward: see price n.) + ᾠδή song (see ode n.) + -ία -y suffix3

Liddell-Scott-Jones glosses classical Greek προσῳδία variously as "song sung to instrumental music"; "variation in pitch of the speaking voice", "tones and voice-modulations"; "more generally, to include other normally unwritten differences of pronunciation, viz. quantity and breathing"; "written marks indicating the above differences of pronunciation".

Leaving out the "song sung to instrumental music" and "theory and practice of versification" parts, you could characterize this family of meanings as based on the informal notion "all the stuff in speech that's left out in writing". And I'd argue that singing and versification belong in the same conceptual bin, because tune-text alignment and verse scansion are just cultural formalization of the motor coordination structures involved in speaking and listening.

Anyhow, here's the list:

"An internet pilgrim's guide to accentual-syllabic verse", 7/6/2004
"Does size matter?", 10/1/2004
"The rhetoric of silence", 10/3/2004
"This is, like, such total crap?", 5/15/2005
"Sex doesn't matter", 11/11/2005
"Uptalk uptick?", 11/15/2005
"Angry rises", 2/11/2006
"Further thoughts on 'The Affect'", 3/22/2006
"Uptalk is not HRT", 3/28/2006
"The shape of a spoken phrase", 4/12/2006
"Sex and speaking rate", 8/7/2006
"Hungarian speech rate and the tribunal of revolutionary empirical justice", 8/16/2006
"Those fast-talking Hungarians marketing researchers", 8/16/2006
"One 75-millisecond step before a 'man'", 10/3/2006
"What Neil Armstrong said", 10/6/2006
"More on pitch and time intervals in speech", 10/15/2006
"Poem in the key of what", 10/9/2006
"The therapeutic power of rhyme", 10/26/2006
"Satirical cartoon uptalk is not HRT either", 11/14/2006
"You say potato, I say bologna", 10/8/2007
"Regional speech rates", 10/13/2007
"Puzzle of the day: The constitution in B flat?", 10/20/2007
"Nationality, Gender and Pitch", 11/12/2007
"How about the Germans?", 11/14/2007
"Do men and women use different parts of their natural pitch ranges?", 11/17/2007
"Rock syncopation: stress shifts or polyrhythms?" 11/26/2007
"Arom on polyrhythms", 11/29/2007
"Intonation contours and polonium poisoning", 12/16/2006
"Mailbag: F0 in Japanese vs. English", 11/13/2007
"Speech rate and per-syllable information across languages", 4/12/2008
"Slicing the syllabic bologna", 5/5/2008
"Another slice of syllabic sausage", 5/6/2008
"Stress timing? Not so much", 5/8/2008
"Stress in Supreme Court oral arguments", 6/17/2008
"Uptalk anxiety", 9/7/2008
"The phonetics of uptalk", 9/13/2008
"Word (in)constancy", 9/16/2008
"Short-long or long-short?", 11/11/2008
"Uptalk v. UNBI again", 11/23/2008
"The American compound rise?", 11/24/2008
"Elementary-school uptalk", 11/30/2008
"Medical uptalk", 12/24/2008
"Musical protolanguage: Darwin's theory of language evolution revisited", 2/12/2009
"Contextual interpretation of prosody", 3/2/2009
"How fast do people talk in court?", 3/11/2009
"Conversational rhythms", 4/13/2009
"Bembé, Attis, Orpheus", 5/6/2009
"Bei mir bist du Hossein", 6/19/2009
"'ma koMA ko SA' … 'ma MA ku SA'",6/27/2009
"Richard Powers on his way to a decision", 10/28/2009
"Native wails", 11/6/2009
"Annals of uptalk: the python wrestler", 3/6/2010
"Norwegian Speech: Fact or Factoid?", 9/13/2010
"Kennedy Speed: Fact or Factoid?", 9/15/2010
"Inaugural Speed", 9/14/2010
"Rap scholarship, rap meter, and The Anthology of Mondegreens", 12/4/2010
"Reince Priebus contributes to intonation research", 1/15/2011
"Prosodic lettering", 5/8/2011
"Finch linguistics", 7/13/2011
"Is it a prosodic-ass contraint?", 8/25/2011
"Raising his voice", 10/8/2011
"Vocal fry: 'creeping in' or 'still here'?", 12/12/2011
"More on 'vocal fry'", 12/18/2011
"Prosody and 'elastic words' in Chinese", 5/13/2013
"'Sexy baby vocal virus'", 8/15/2013
"Biology, sex, culture, and pitch", 8/16/2013
"The message", 8/26/2013
"English prosodic phrasing", 9/21/2013
"Uptalk awakening", 9/29/2013
"Okie uptalk", 11/10/2013
"Speech rhythms and brain rhythms", 12/2/2013
"Media uptake on uptalk", 12/6/2013
"Final rises", 12/8/2013
"Speech rhythm in Visible Speech", 12/18/2013
"Consonant effects on F0 of following vowels", 6/5/2014
"Consonant effects on F0 are multiplicative", 6/6/2014
"Vocal fry probably doesn't harm your career prospects", 6/7/2014
"Consonant effects of F0 in Chinese", 6/12/2014
"Prosodic foot fetish", 6/18/2014
"Real fry", 6/19/2014
"The shape of a spoken phrase in Mandarin", 6/21/2014
"Uptalk in Devon", 8/12/2014
"Combating stereotypes — with stereotypes", 10/17/2014
"Phrasal trends in pitch, or, the lab subject's moan", 11/7/2014
"Jazz dispute", 11/13/2014
"Freedom Fries", 2/3/2015
"You want fries with that?", 2/3/2015
"Sarah Koenig", 2/5/2015
"Vocal creak and fry, exemplified", 2/7/2015
"Reaper", 2/8/2015
"Effects of vocal fry on pitch perception", 3/5/2015
"Girl talk", 3/13/2015
"Political pitch ranges", 4/22/2015
"Cantonese intonation", 4/30/2015
"The shape of a spoken phrase in Spanish", 5/29/2015
"Open letter to Terry Gross", 7/10/2015
"Male vocal fry", 7/23/2015
"Pinker peace creak", 7/24/2015
"More Pinker peace creak", 7/25/2015
"What does 'vocal fry' mean?", 8/20/2015
"Latin American Spanish accents", 10/17/2015
"Jeopardy gossip", 11/25/2015
"Chat with #JeopardyLaura", 12/2/2015
"Solaar pleure carrément?", 1/30/2016
"Political sound and silence", 2/8/2016
"Poetic sound and silence", 2/12/2016
"Cat phonetics", 3/13/2016
"'An essay towards establishing the melody and measure of speech'", 3/20/2016
"Some phonetic dimensions of speech style", 4/9/2016
"Singing an escape from Foreign Accent Syndrome", 6/20/2016
"'Believe me': Prosodic differences", 7/28/2016
"Trump's prosody", 8/8/2016


  1. Bob Ladd said,

    August 12, 2016 @ 10:40 am

    Advertisement for myself: Anyone interested in a more substantial version of Mark's exegesis of the history of the word prosody and what it covers is invited to look at chapter 3 of my book Simultaneous Structure in Phonology (Oxford, 2014). A pre-publication pdf is here.

  2. AntC said,

    August 12, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

    Thanks Mark. Also in Linguistics there's a school of 'Prosody' ? 'Prosodics' ? that I associate with JR Firth and MAK Halliday.

    That's presumably a related sense, but different?

    I associate the school (sorry, it was a long time ago I did this stuff) with the theme/rheme structure of discourse(?)

  3. Bob Ladd said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 1:48 am

    @AntC: The Firthian sense of "prosody" took seriously the idea that the key difference between "prosody" and letter-sized segments is that prosodies [sic] extend themselves over larger domains. So instead of taking letter-sized sounds as given and applying "prosody" only to what's left over (intonation, etc.), they decomposed letter-sized segments as much as possible when they found phonetic properties of any sort extending over larger domains. A good example would be vowel harmony, where the harmonic features were treated as "word prosodies".

    So yes – a related sense, but different.

  4. Y said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 10:18 pm

    Is there any syntactic framework, for English at least, which incorporates intonation as more than an afterthought?

  5. Joe said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 11:00 am

    @Mark: "all the stuff in speech that's left out in writing"

    That's a lot of stuff. Is this constrained to "oral" stuff or would we include "aural" stuff which may form a kind of grammar for a particular song but not necessarily produced by through the mouth? I'm thinking about hand-clapping, marching and chest-beating. If singing is included, what about melody and rhythm? Could we include, as an area of study, a theory of jazz "blue notes" and how it contributes to the "semantics" of a song? Could we even break out of the "aural" constraints and include, say, the semantic contribution of physical performance (playing of instruments, dance, ritual, etc.).

    I know I'm kind of getting outside the zone here but "not-writing" seems to be a broad brush. In defense of it, though, it would seem that there would be lot of "non-writing" factors that may contribute to the semantics of a performance be it a political speech, a marching band parade or hip hop concert.

  6. AntC said,

    August 18, 2016 @ 3:30 am

    Thank you @Bob. If I'd read your chapter before posting, that would have more than answered all of my musings. Absolutely excellent. Advertise for yourself boots'n'all, I say.

    I see you credit Mark's doctoral thesis with making explicit links between musical text-setting and what he called ‘tune-text association’ in intonation.

    Which reminds me … here is an outstanding piece from Mark about tune-text alignment. I wish somebody/anybody had taught me a fraction of it in any of my schooling — English literature, languages, music, public speaking.

    There's promise of a second and third follow-up. Was that on LL or elsewhere? Anyway I'm not finding them.

RSS feed for comments on this post