3 - Prosody

3.1 - Some Words of Caution and Encouragement

For the purposes of understanding rhythm, the most important aspect of prosody is stress, or the prominence given to certain syllables. Despite the fact that all of you using this tutorial are native or competent English speakers, one of the biggest hurdles for many Poetry and Poetics students is becoming analytically cognizant of what you say daily without thinking. It is not unusual, in my experience, to find numerous students who can correctly pronounce a word in every day conversation or reading but who cannot assign stress values correctly. So, first, don't panic, if you are uncertain or make mistakes. Second, and this cannot be said enough, READ POEMS ALOUD, read words and phrases aloud, listen to others read; even when you must read silently, do so with an awareness of your physical voice. This encouragement comes with a caveat--remember that your scansion assumes the most neutral pronunciation of words and phrases. In this sense, a scansion is not a blueprint for performance. You might very well, in reading and interpreting, choose to accent a word more emphatically but any dramatic emphases still have underlying them the syntactic and phonological rules you will be practicing here. Third, use the dictionary. All words in it have stress properly marked, though as you'll see when we discuss the RHYTHM RULE the stress of a word in isolation may alter because of its context. And last, use the linguistic rules I'm giving you, remembering that these rules explain not only how stress works but its syntactic basis. The rules begin with words and then move to phrases.