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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Prosodic Features

Intonation is referred to as a prosodic feature of English. This is the collective term used to describe variations in pitch, loudness, tempo, and rhythm. These features are all involved in intonation, stress, and rhythm.

Loudness has already been mentioned in relation to weak and strong syllables in English and in the extra prominence given to nuclear syllables. In more extended speech, loudness can be used for other effects. It is associated with anger (though anger can also be indicated by very quiet, tense speech). In public speaking, orators produce powerful effects by varying the loudness of their speech.

The juxtaposition of very loud and very quiet utterances is a device often used by those trying to arouse strong emotions in their audience. It is also used to heighten effectiveness when reading children's stories. In Stan and Jan Berenstain's book Bears in the Night, the naughty little bears creep out of bed and go up Spook Hill until an owl calls WHOOOO! whereupon they rush down the hill and back into bed.

The pace of speech is called tempo. This too can be varied. Fast speech can convey urgency, whereas slower speech can be used for emphasis. Varying the tempo can also be used for effect in public speaking, often accompanying changes in loudness. When reading stories to children, we can vary the tempo and loudness to reinforce the meaning of the words.

  Then carefully,
Gently he crept
Up the trunk to the nest where the little egg slept.
  Dr Seuss: Horton Hatches the Egg

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Published on: 07 May 2009