Word of the Day – Prosody

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Defined as “the patterns of stress and intonation in a language”, there is arguably little need to teach prosody explicitly to young learners, who pick it up naturally and with infuriating ease! For adults, however, an awareness of prosody and it’s impact on the spoken language can be an eye-opener.

When a spoken language is based mainly on the importance of syllables, as with Brazilian Portuguese (BP), it can be easier to speak and to understand. Here’s a simple example: the word ‘perceber’ in Brazilian Portuguese (BP) is always pronounced as 3 distinct syllables, whereas in Portuguese de Portugal (EP), it is usually pronounced as two syllables (the first syllable disappears).*

This also happens a lot in English, with hundreds of common examples, such as ‘gonna’ (going to), or ‘can’t’ (cannot). The problem for the listener is that they are expecting to hear all the syllables, and cannot recognise the word(s) without them!

The problem will be familiar to anyone who has learned the language in their own country and then travels to the country where the language is spoken natively. Armed with your detailed knowledge of the language, you are immediately confused when you cannot understand the first person you hear at the airport on arrival!

If you have not yet been taught the basics of prosody, I recommend you investigate its importance in the spoken language. You may find it helps your oral fluency!

*the word perceber also has different meanings in the two countries.

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