Prosody is a term used in linguistics that refers to all of the acoustic properties of spoken language, including pauses, pitch, volume, duration, grouping, and emphasis. Prosody is used to convey everything that the straight semantics and grammar of an utterance do not. For instance, if one wishes to make the phrase "Wow, what a great day!" a sarcastic comment, one might stretch out the "wow", and overemphasize the intonation of the rest of the sentence. To people who are fluent speakers of English, these prosodic markers convey sarcasm. Other than emotion, Prosody can be used to signify other things such as:

There are also things such as paragraph-level and sentence-level prosody, which help structure the course of a conversation or narrative. Similar to this is list prosody, an example of which would be the typical lowering of tone at the end of a list to signify its end.

We can see how important prosody is through studying patients who have deficits in this area. Many patients who suffer from Frontotemporal Dementia (Pick's Disease), or Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Disease cannot distinguish or produce affective (emotional) prosody. This is very problematic for them, and especially for their caregivers, who get frustrated with their apparent lack of sensitivity. In the literature, one woman divorced her Parkinsonian husband because he seemed to be no longer sensitive or caring to her emotional state. The trouble was that he was unable to pick up the various affective aspects of her voice, so if she didn't directly state it, he didn't know when she was tired, stressed, or unhappy. In a similar fashion, a schoolteacher with Parkinson's had to quit her job because she could no longer summon the correct tone of voice to reprimand her students.

Pros"o*dy (?), n. [L. prosodia the tone or accent of a syllable, Gr. a song sung to, or with, an accompanying song, the accent accompanying the pronunciation; to + song, ode: cf. F. prosodie. See Ode.]

That part of grammar which treats of the quantity of syllables, of accent, and of the laws of versification or metrical composition.


© Webster 1913.

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