1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email




(1) In phonetics, the use of pitch, loudness, tempo, and rhythm in speech to convey information about the structure and meaning of an utterance. Adjective: prosodic.

(2) In literary studies, the theory and principles of versification, especially as they refer to rhythm, accent, and stanza.

See also:


From the Greek, "song sung to instrumental music"

Examples and Observations (Definition #1):

  • "There are no capital letters or full stops in speech: the job of breaking down the continuous flow into meaningful and manageable chunks is mainly done by using the resources of prosody (pitch, stress, loudness, tempo). To many inexperienced writers it is far from self-evident how to translate the primarily prosodic structure of speech into the syntactic structure of writing. . . .

    "Speech is organized into prosodic units, marked off by pauses and intonation contours: they may or may not have the syntactic structure of complete sentences. Writing, however, relies on the sentence as its basic unit."
    (Deborah Cameron, The Teacher's Guide to Grammar. Oxford Univ. Press, 2007)

  • "The term prosody refers to the stress patterns of a language. In English, stress is distinctive at the level of the individual word and at the level of phrases, clauses, and entire sentences."
    (C. M. Millward and Mary Hayes, A Biography of the English Language, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2011)

  • "Early studies of prosody (e.g. Pike 1945) focused on trying to assign meaning to prosodic features in much the way phonemes and morphemes are assigned meaning. . . . Studies of prosody and meaning moved on to points in which contextual factors were recognized as important. Crystal (1969) claimed that situational elements, such as kinesic activity and/or grammar and other situational factors, are intimately connected with pitch and tone, and called for a move away from describing and analyzing prosodic features as discrete units. . . .

    "Recent work in prosody has continued to expand on the ideas set up by Crystal (1969) and Coultahrd and Brazil (1982) by taking into consideration such aspects of interaction as how prosody can signal speakers' intentions in the discourse."
    (Rebecca L. Damron, "Prosodic Schemas," in Discourse Across Languages and Cultures, ed. by Carol Lynn Moder and Aida Martinovic-Zic. John Benjamins, 2004)

  • Prosodic Signals of Two Grammatical Differences
    "If someone is reciting a list of items, we know whether the list is complete or not by the pitch of the voice. If the pitch is rising . . ., there are more items to come. If it is falling . . ., there is nothing further to come. The difference is suggested in writing by the use of a series of dots instead of a full stop"
    I bought beer, whiskey, gin . . . I bought beer, whiskey, gin.
    "The two types of relative clause can be distinguished by intonation:
    My brother / who's abroad / has written to me.
    (I have only one brother, and he's abroad)

    My brother / who's abroad / has written to me.
    (my brother who's in London / has not)"
    (David Crystal, Rediscover Grammar, 3rd ed. Pearson Longman 2003)

  • Functions of Prosody
    "The functions of prosody are manifold. . . . Prosody is for instance involved in matters such as sentence and word segmentation, syntactic phrasing, stress, accentuation, phonological distinctions in tone languages. Prosody also features pragmatic and expressive functions. A given sentence in a given context generally expresses much more than its linguistic content (the same sentence, with the same linguistic content may have plenty of different expressive contents or pragmatic meanings). Examples of expressive content are: the identity of the speaker, her/his attitude, mood, ages, sex, sociolinguistic group, and other extralinguistic features. Examples of pragmatic meaning encompass the speaker/listener attitudes (aggressive, submissive, neutral, etc.), the relationships of the speaker and her/his discourse (belief, confidence, assertiveness, etc.), and various other aspects of the specific speech act performed."
    (Christophe d'Alessandro (Orsay), "Voice Source Parameters and Prosodic Analysis." Methods in Empirical Prosody Research, ed. by Stefan Sudhoff. Walter de Gruyter, 2006)
Pronunciation: PROS-eh-dee
Also Known As: suprasegmental phonology
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Grammar & Rhetoric Glossary
  5. Paired Construction - Quotative
  6. prosody - definition and examples of prosody

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.