Essay: Supra-segmental Features (Prosody)
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In linguistics, prosody refers to intonation, rhythm, and vocal stress in speech. The prosodic features of a unit of speech, whether a syllable, word, phrase, or clause, are called suprasegmental features because they affect all the segments of the unit. These suprasegmental features are manifested, among other things, as syllable length, tone, and stress.
Phrases and clauses are grammatical concepts, but they may have prosodic equivalents, commonly called prosodic units, intonation units, or declination units, which are the actual phonetic spurts or chunks of speech, and which may exist as a hierarchy of levels. Such units are characterized by several phonetic cues, such as a coherent pitch contour, and the gradual decline in pitch and lengthening of vowels over the duration of the unit, until the pitch and speed are reset to begin the next unit. Breathing, both inhalation and exhalation, only seems to occur at these boundaries.
Note that prosodic units do not need to correspond to grammatical units, although both may reflect how the brain processes speech.
Different schools of linguistics describe somewhat different prosodic units. One common distinction is between continuing prosody, which in English orthography we might mark with a comma, and final prosody, which we might mark with a period (full stop). This is the common usage of the IPA symbols for "minor" and "major" prosodic breaks (American English pronunciation):
Jack, preparing the way, went on.
[ˈdʒæk pɹəˌpɛəɹɪŋ ðə ˈweɪ wɛnt ˈɒn ‖ ]
Jacques, préparant le sol, tomba.
[ˈʒak pʁepaʁɑ̃ lɵ ˈsɔl tɔ̃ˈba ‖ ]
Note that the last syllable with a full vowel in a French prosodic unit is stressed, and that the last stressed syllable in an English prosodic unit has primary stress. This shows that stress is not phonemic in French, and that the difference between primary and secondary stress is not phonemic in English; they are both elements of prosody rather than inherent in the words.
The pipe symbols are phonetic, and so will often disagree with English punctuation, which only partially correlates with prosody.
However, the pipes may also be used for metrical breaks, with the pipe being used to mark metrical feet, and the double pipe being used for both continuing and final prosody, as their alternate names "foot group" and "intonation group" suggest. In such usage, each foot group would include one and only one heavy syllable. In English, this would mean one and only one stressed syllable:
Jack, preparing the way, went on.
[ˈdʒæk ‖ pɹəˌpɛəɹɪŋ ðə ˈweɪ ‖ wɛnt ˈɒn ‖ ]
In many tone languages with downdrift, such as Hausa, [ ] is often used to represent a minor prosodic break that does not interrupt the overall decline in pitch of the utterance, while [ ‖ ] marks either continuing or final prosody that creates a pitch reset. In such cases, some linguists use only the single pipe, with continuing and final prosody marked by a comma and period, respectively.
In transcriptions of non-tonal languages, the three symbols pipe, comma, and period may also be used, with the pipe representing a break more minor than the comma, the so-called list prosody often used to separate items when reading lists, spelling words, or giving out telephone numbers.
A contrastive pitch of syllables in which conveys part of meaning of a word. In languages such as Mandarin, the pronunciation of two words may be the same except the pitch difference. For example, [ma] pronounced with a high-level tone means "mother", and with a high falling tone means "scold". In Cantonese, [ma] produced with a high-level tone means "mother" too, but with a low-mid to mid rising tone means "a horse". Click here to see more Cantonese tone example.
Intonation, in linguistics, is the variation of pitch when speaking. Intonation and stress are two main elements of linguistic prosody.
Many languages use pitch syntactically, for instance to convey surprise and irony or to change a statement to a question. Such languages are called intonation languages. English and French are well-known examples. Some languages use pitch to distinguish words; these are known as tonal languages. Thai and Hausa are examples. An intermediate position is occupied by languages with tonal word accent, for instance Norwegian or Japanese.
The use of varying pitch to convey meaning. If the same utterences are produced with different intonation, the meaning conveyed will be different. For example, in English, the utterence it is a cat will be regarded as a statement when there is a fall in pitch, and the utterence will be regarded as a question if the pitch rises.
It is a cat. (pitch falls)
It is a cat? (pitch rises)
Rising intonation means the pitch of the voice increases over time; falling intonation means that the pitch decreases with time. A dipping intonation falls and then rises, whereas a peaking intonation rises and then falls.
The classic example of intonation is the question/statement distinction. For example, northeastern American English, like very many languages (Hirst & DiCristo, eds. 1998), has a rising intonation for echo or declarative questions (He found it on the street?), and a falling intonation for wh- questions (Where did he find it?) and statements (He found it on the street.). Yes/no questions (Did he find it on the street?) often have a rising end, but not always. The Chickasaw language has the opposite pattern, rising for statements and falling with questions.
Stress is to produce a syllable with relatively greater length, loudness, and/or higher pitch in which extra respiratory energy is needed. In languages such as English, stress may involve in linguistic function and cause difference in syntactic category such as noun or verb. Here shows some examples:
Word - Verb - Noun
object - ob'ject - 'object
subject - sub'ject - 'subject
record - re'cord - 'record
digest - di'gest - 'digest
abstract - ab'stract - 'abstract
segment - seg'ment - 'segment
survey - sur'vey - 'survey