Prosodics, Part 1
LIN 3201
Prosodics, or Suprasegmentals
Remember, from our first discussions in class,
that speech is really a continuous flow of
initiation, phonation and articulation.
What we have done so far in class is to divide
this continuum into segments – speech
sounds – by cutting this contiunuum into
analzyable pieces.
It is now time to move away from the
segments –
and the relationship, or contrast, of one
segment to another
and discuss processes greater than the
segments –
the prosodics, or suprasegmentals.
Prosodics or Suprasegmentals are processes that
affect units of speech larger than one segment (one
speech sound).
Suprasegmentals create the differences in “rhythm”
across languages.
Examples include:
Suprasegmentals can be tricky…
Some suprasegmentals are difficult to perceive
or describe because they are so natural to us
as native speakers; we often learn these first
before we even learn the vowels and
consonants of the language.
Example: Intonation
Three Divisions of Prosodics
Remember that the three components of
speech are:
1. Initiation
2. Phonation
3. Articulation
Prosodic features pertain to these components,
as well.
1. Initatory Prosodics
those dealing with initiatory power
Syllables – burst of initiatory power
Stress – degree of energy of initiatory
Suprasegmental #1 – The Syllable
Linguistic domain of most suprasegmentals
(tone, pitch)
While native speakers can easily agree on
the number of syllables in their language,
linguists have had difficulty defining
Catford: syllable as pulse of initiatory
activity or as “initiatory power peak”
The Syllable, cont.
Syllables are composed of three parts:
Onset – consonantal beginning of the
Nucleus – central and most important part
of the syllable
• Carries the tone and stress
• Is what we sing, when singing
• Is usually a vowel, or consonant with vocalic
qualities (approximant)
Coda – Consonantal end of the syllable
The Nucleus and Coda are referred to as
the rhyme
The Syllable, cont.
Different languages have different possible
constraints and syllable shapes
Some shapes: V, CV, CVV, CVC, CCV,
CCCV, CVVV, etc.
Some allow or forbid certain clusters, for
example, in the coda or in the onset
English allows onset of [sC], Spanish does not
Syllable constraints are language-specific
Suprasegmental #2 – Stress
When pronouncing words with more than one
syllable, you will find that one syllable is
more prominent than the others.
You may perceive this syllable as being longer,
louder, or higher pitched than the other syllables.
What actually creates the stress is the degree
of initiatory power – energy from the lungs
Suprasegmental #2 – Stress, cont.
 Within words, the
stressed syllable is
marked with the
suprascript line
diacritic preceding the
syllable with stress
Suprasegmental #2 – Stress, cont.
In some languages, syllable stress is
completely predictable
Swahili – stress always penultimate syllable
Czech – stress always first syllable
In others, stress depends on lexical status of
word (noun vs. verb, for example) or
structure of syllable (syllable coda =
consonant vs. coda=vowel)
Stress in English
Courtesy of Dr. Caroline Withshire
2. Phonatory Prosodics
those dealing with voice quality &
Tone – pitch variations on short segments
Intonation – pitch variations on longer
Suprasegmental #3 – Tone
Pitch variation on short segments, such as
Phonemes, Morphemes & Syllables
Pitch = frequency of vocal fold vibration
stretching vocal folds to make more tense
altering subglottal pressure, the pressure below the
vocal folds; higher pressure=higher pitch
Tone, cont.
Tone is usually phonemic – that is, it can be
used to contrast word meanings – it serves
the function of contrasting word A (with
meaning A) with word B (with meaning B),
even though the segments may be the same.
Thai, Chinese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Shona,
Zulu and Luganda are tone languages.
Types of tone
Tones may be level, meaning one pitch is maintained
throughout the segment or syllable:
Tones may also be contours, which means pitch
changes during production of the segment or
Falling (high-low)
Rising (low-high)
Transcribing Tone
Courtesy of Dr. Caroline Wiltshire
Pitch Accent Languages
Language such as Japanese, Swedish, SerboCroation & Norwegian
Differ amongst themselves in uses of pitch
Use tone contrastively, but much more limited
than tone languages
Tone is limited to certain syllables or words
Is limited to only high vs. low pitch distinctions
Pitch Accent Languages, cont.
Swedish: two-tone distinction on group of words
containing more than one syllable
anden (falling)/(rising) - ‘duck’/ ‘spirit’
Japanese: point where pitch falls in a word
kakika (high.low.low) – ‘oyster’ (high accent 1st)
kakika (low.high.low) – ‘fence’ (high accent 2nd)
kakika (low.high.high) – ‘persimmon’ (no accent –
no fall)
Suprasegmental #4 – Intonation
Whereas tone is pitch variation on smaller
segments, intonation is pitch variation across
larger segments of speech (phrases or
Falling (low pitch on last word) “It’s a new car!”
Rising (high pitch on last word) “It’s a new car?”
Intonation, cont.
Intonation is generally used pragmatically –
that is, to tell how the utterance functions
As a question
As a statement
Speaker attitude
3. Articulatory Prosodics
those dealing with articulation
Length – duration of articulation
Suprasegmental #5 – Length
The duration, or length, of the production of a vowel
or consonant
Some length:
 is natural to the production of the sound itself
(open vowels longer than closed),
 to the environment (English vowels before voiced
consonants longer than before voiceless)
 or used contrastively ([a] vs. [a:] or [t] vs. [t:])
Length, cont.
Long Vowels [V:] or
Geminates [C:]
Courtesy of Dr. Caroline Wiltshire

Prosodics - University of Florida