The word prosody - pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, which has a short vowel, PRO-ser-di, IPA: /'prɒ sə dɪ/ - has two applications in the study of English. The first is the more commonly used in AWE, not least because it is more widely known in the general population. It is also the more established in tradition: the second is first recorded in OED only in 1949.
- In the study of literature, prosody is the branch that deals with the analysis and identification of the metres and formal structures of traditional verse. Articles in AWE that deal with this subject are grouped in the category:prosody.
- Other names that have been used more or less as synonyms for prosody as a literary term are metrics, scansion and versification, although it seems helpful to reserve the last of these to the actual practice of 'making verse', or writing poetry in the traditional style.
- In linguistics, prosody is the branch of phonetics that deals with what are called 'supra-segmental' elements such as intonation and stress. On the whole, prosody analyses the larger units of spoken language: phrases, whole utterances, and the spoken equivalent of sentences. (This is sometimes loosely called 'the music of speech' - but most scholars regard that as a dangerously loose description.)
- OED also records a meaning "2. The correct pronunciation of words; the utterance of the sounds of a language according to prosodic rules. Now rare." It is so rare that users of AWE are advised not to use the word prosody in this way.
Etymological note: The word prosody comes, through Latin, from the Greek προσῳδία (prosōdia), which is a compound of προς (pros, ‘to’) and ᾠδή (ōdē, song) and means ‘song sung to an instrumental accompaniment’ or ‘variations in pitch of the speaking voice’.