Prosody on the Web
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What is prosody?

Prosody and intonation cover much the same ground; as an overall term is needed, prosody will be used. Technical terms are given in bold and explained in the surrounding text.

We distinguish between prosodic functions (what the prosody does) and prosodic forms (what the prosody is).

The functions of prosody are many and fascinating. Where speech-sounds such as vowels and consonants function mainly to provide an indication of the identity of words and the regional variety of the speaker, prosody can indicate syntax, turn-taking in conversational interactions, types of utterance such as questions and statements, and people's attitudes and feelings. They can also indicate word-identity (although only occasionally, in English). We will treat a few well-defined prosodic functions such as chunking and focus.

The forms (or elements) of prosody are derived from the acoustic characteristics of speech. They include the pitch or frequency, the length or duration, and the loudness or intensity. All these forms are present in varying quantities in every spoken utterance. The varying quantities help determine the function to which listeners orient themselves in interpreting the utterance. The screens in the tutorials on prosodic forms are designed to attune your ear to these varying degrees of presence.


There are three tutorials for you to try:

  1. An introduction to chunking
  2. An introduction to focus
  3. Pitch