The Music of Everyday Speech: Prosody and Discourse Analysis

The Music of Everyday Speech: Prosody and Discourse Analysis

The Music of Everyday Speech: Prosody and Discourse Analysis

The Music of Everyday Speech: Prosody and Discourse Analysis

Synopsis

Recently there has been a growing interest among discourse analysts in incorporating prosody into the analysis of spoken language. Wennerstrom considers the role of prosody in a variety of discourse genres and offers an over-all framework within which future analysis might continue.

Excerpt

The more I have worked with discourse, the more it has become clear that prosody—intonation, timing, and volume—is central to the interpretation of spoken language, but that, unfortunately, it is often ignored in actual analyses of discourse. Moreover, I have perceived a certain frustration among discourse analysts who have attempted to approach the subject of prosody. This may be due in part to the fact that much of the phonological work on prosody is highly technical and difficult to read unless one has a background in phonology. Therefore, an analyst who wishes to discuss the prosodic features in a text is faced with either wading into a technical body of phonological literature or describing those features in an ad hoc way.

Those brave souls who choose the former then encounter another problem: phonologists' conceptions of prosody are far from settled. At a recent conference of the American Association of Applied Linguistics, I noted that three very different models of intonation—those of Pierrehumbert, Brazil, and Halliday—were invoked by different presenters for different purposes. Aspects of the same prosodic phenomenon are being discussed under different theoretical assumptions. For the audience, the result may be a blind-men-and–the-elephant understanding of prosody. Although this metaphor is probably no longer politically correct, I find it apt to describe the situation a discourse analyst may confront in the attempt . . .

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