Short Courses & Events

Prosody in conversation

Thursday 19th September 2024, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM (London Time)

£30 - UK £30 - International

In this course, we will take an introductory look at what prosody is and consider its functions in natural conversation. For example, in the following exchange, Mat tells his girlfriend Beth that at his university, students sleep in the library:

  1. Mat:        PEOple SLEEP in there.  (--)  (--) Like for DAYS on END.
  2.                They keep SLEEPing bags and just SLEEP under TABles. 
  3. Beth:       ↑↑SE::↓riously.
  4. Mat:        ↑↓YEAH?

At line 1, Mat pauses twice (marked as (--)) after delivering his news, but Beth does not respond. He keeps emphasising news-worthy words, such as ‘SLEEP’ and ‘DAYS on END’. When he reaches another new piece of information, namely that people ‘sleep under tables’, Beth finally reacts. Not only does she use the word ‘seriously’, which strongly challenges Mat – more strongly than, say, ‘really?’. She also uses very emphatic prosody. Her pitch rises very high and then drops steeply. She also lengthens the first syllable ‘SE::’. This leads Mat, who so far has been speaking with default pitch and intonation, to respond with an equally extreme prosody: his pitch first rises, then falls, and then rises again.

The term ‘prosody’ describes the musical aspects of speech: pitch, loudness, time, and voice quality. Pitch includes intonation (the constantly changing melody of speech, such as when asking a question with rising intonation) and pitch register (the momentary lowering or lifting of the baseline, such as when shifting into a higher pitch for exchanging hellos or goodbyes). Loudness manifests on single syllables as stress (such as contrast vs. contrast), but speakers also change their overall loudness, for example, when interrupting another speaker. Time includes speech tempo (for example, speaking faster to avoid being interrupted), syllable length (for example, lengthening a word to give it extra emphasis), speech rhythm (for example, using the same rhythm as another speaker to show agreement), and silence (for example, delaying an answer when disagreeing). Voice quality can be, for example, creaky (‘vocal fry’), harsh, breathy, or whispered. Each has a different function in conversation.

We will examine each of these with video recordings of everyday talk and show how they contribute to small but very meaningful changes to how we communicate.

🏷️ Price £30 (UK VAT inclusive)
🎥 Recording automatically sent to all who book (even if you cannot attend live)
▶️ Rewatch as many times as you like
📜 Certificate of attendance available

Beatrice Szczepek Reed

Beatrice Szczepek Reed is Professor of Linguistics at King’s College London, where she is the Co-Director of the Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication. Beatrice studies spoken language, particularly the phonetics and phonology of natural conversation.

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Attend this course for as little as £22 as part of the Voice Professional Training CPD Award Scheme.

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