Prosody and meaning: theory and practice

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Prosodic elements such as stress and intonation are generally seen as providing both ‘natural’ and properly linguistic input to utterance comprehension. They typically create impressions, convey information about emotions or attitudes, or alter the salience of linguistically possible interpretations rather than conveying distinct propositions or concepts in their own right. These aspects of communication present a challenge to pragmatic theory: how should they be described and explained? This chapter examines some of the theoretical questions raised in the study of the pragmatics of prosody. It explores a range of distinctions made in the study of meaning – between natural meaning and non-natural meaning, coding and inference, between linguistic coding and non-linguistic coding – and considers their relation to prosody. Three theoretical questions are asked: How can the different types of prosody be characterised? What is the relationship between prosody and intentional communication? What kind of meaning does prosody encode? In the final section of the chapter the discussion is extended to the practical domain. To what extent is the theoretical debate reflected in the teaching of English pronunciation? Can the theory usefully inform the practice?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPragmatics, prosody and English language teaching
EditorsJesus Romero-Trillo
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9789400738829
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

Publication series

NameEducational linguistics


  • prosody
  • meaning
  • pragmatics
  • natural meaning
  • non-natural meaning
  • semantics
  • intonation
  • language teaching


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