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What is Prosody? Fixing Your Tone of Voice

by Stephanie Barry, M.S., CCC-SLP of Independent Speech, LLC.
Prosody is the melody of language. It makes our speech interesting to listen to and helps provide meaning to our listeners. Prosody consists of phrasing, stress/intonation, the rate of our speech, etc.

When a person does not use prosody correctly the listener may find their speech harder to follow. This is becuase prosody makes our speech interesting to listen to as well as provides meaning to our sentences.

We have heard many say; "Do not use that tone of voice with me!" When they give this command they are asking the person to change their prosody. The speaker may have used a sarcastic tone to their voice by changing their pitch, how long they held on to syllables (parts of words) etc. We can say the same sentence with two different tones of voice and though the words are exactly the same, the meaning that the listener derives from the sentence is completely different. For example: Read this sentence "Matt was late". Now read it again with a sarcastic tone which tells your listener that you are not surprised that Matt was late becuase he is often late. Try reading the sentence again with a surprised tone of voice. This indicates that you are very surprised that Matt was late and are concerned as to the reason behind him being late as he is always on time. Same words, completely different meaning.

An great example for prosody making the speech more interesting comes from an old movie "Three Men and a Baby". In one scene, Tom Selleck is reading a story out of Sports Illustrated to the baby (who is only a few months old). When asked what he was reading he replies by saying "it doesn't matter what you read, it only matters how you read it". He goes back to reading with a very interesting and soothing tone to his voice which seems to lull the baby to sleep.

This is just a brief overview of what prosody is and how it can affect your speech. You listener gains a great deal of information from the prosodic cues you provide. In addition, effective prosody skills can make your speech more interesting and engaging and may help the listener pay attention to what you are saying thus learning from you what you are trying to tell them.

If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty with prosody please contact a licensed, certified speech-language pathologist as they can help train or re-train these skills to help increase the effectiveness of the person's communication.

Stephanie Barry, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist and Educational Consultant
Tel: 602-793-2958

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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