Prosody and Punctuation

Jeanne Fahnestock

in Rhetorical Style

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199764129
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918928 | DOI:
Prosody and Punctuation

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Rhetoric began as and remains an art of oral communication, but its advice has been adapted to writing since antiquity. Speech and writing as modes of language delivery, and hearing and reading as modes of language consumption, are worth distinguishing. Speakers can easily vary their output in pitch, loudness, sound duration, and pause length; they can realize a distinct prosody in a speech. Furthermore, speakers can add facial expressions and other paralinguistic features. Rhetorical manuals covered these performance elements in the canon of delivery, and advice on style considered prosody as rhythm, even to the point of specifying certain sound units like Aristotle's paean or the medieval cursus. Though transcriptions of spoken texts can never completely capture the immediacy and performance dimensions of speech, writing systems have evolved markers (punctuation) as aids to prosody. Brief attention to earlier punctuation practices suggests that earlier systems segmented written texts with more awareness of the larger argument structures built from smaller units. Even into the eighteenth century, written sentences were constructed according to balanced patterns managed by punctuation. The figures of speech also included attention to dramatic spoken effects, such as breaking off mid-statement (aposiopesis) or crying out (ecphonesis). But more important in argument is the prosodic contour of longer passages. The prosody of such passages can be appreciated by the simple expedient of first listing the various lengths of sentences in order to uncover where arguers have changed the pace with shorter or longer sentences.

Keywords: speech; writing; prosody; delivery; paean; cursus; punctuation; aposiopesis; ecphonesis; sentence length

Chapter.  10012 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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