Function vs. Form in Speech Prosody – Lessons from Experimental Research and Potential Implications for Teaching

Part of the Educational Linguistics book series (EDUL, volume 15)


Part of the difficulty in teaching English prosody may come from the tradition of giving primacy to directly observable prosodic forms while paying little attention to articulatory mechanisms and communicative functions. In this chapter I will offer an overview of experimental findings based on an articulatory-functional approach to speech prosody. I will show that these findings can both simplify and enrich our understanding of English prosody, and that such improved understanding may potentially make the teaching of prosody more effective. In particular, experimental evidence has shown that although not a tone language, English nevertheless assigns contrastive pitch targets to each and every syllable, although the properties of the targets vary with functions such as word stress, focus and sentence type. Also the pitch range of focused word is expanded in both statements and questions, while the pitch range after focus is compressed and lowered in statements but compressed and raised in questions. Experimental findings like these suggest new strategies in the teaching of English prosody. First, it might be more effective to teach syllable-based than word- or accent-based intonation patterns. Second, it might be more effective to teach functionally defined prosodic patterns rather than patterns classified in terms of their surface forms. Finally, it might be more effective to teach complex prosodic forms as resulting from interactions of multiple communicative functions each with a relatively simple underlying form rather than as prosodic gestalts each with a convoluted set of meaning attributes.


Sentence Type Stressed Syllable Pitch Range Pitch Accent Lexical Stress 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Department of Speech, Hearing and Phonetic SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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