Prosody has been described as the music of speech. The term corresponds to our common sense idea of ‘tone of voice’. Chief features include intonation, loudness and pace. Prosody is integral to spoken communication and conveys a surplus of meaning beyond what is articulated through the words alone. Research shows that speakers use prosody for a number of communicative purposes, including: to place emphasis on new or important items of information in an utterance; to lend coherence to shared discourse; and to express their constantly-shifting emotional stance towards the interaction-in-progress, for example the degree of enthusiasm or interest they feel for the current topic of discussion. Speakers show acute sensitivity to one another’s prosody in spontaneous dialogue and use prosody as a resource to convey subtle nuances of expression.
Whilst existing research on classroom discourse has produced well-attested findings about common structural properties of this register of language use, to date there are few studies which specifically investigate the prosodic features of speech in this context (Skidmore, 2006). A pilot study of a high school English lesson identifies ‘prosodic orientation’ – in which the teacher echoes a student utterance and matches its intonation – as a means of affirming the value of student-initiated contributions to whole-class discussion (Skidmore, 2008). A study of an episode of teacher-led plenary discourse shows how prosody may be used to signal shifts in footing between different kinds of pedagogic activity (Skidmore & Murakami, 2010).
However, the existing studies are small-scale and exploratory rather than systematic or conclusive, and our understanding of the contribution of prosody to the degree of shared understanding achieved in teacher-student dialogue remains limited. The present project is designed to make good that lack.
The purposes of this study are as follows.
1. To map the chief properties of the prosody of teacher-student dialogue.
2. To investigate how prosody indicates the degree of mutual engagement achieved between teacher and students during episodes of discussion.
Dr Skidmore will now consider applications from those applicants who are happy to compete for University and Graduate School funding or obtain external funding. Funding is difficult to obtain and highly competitive. You are responsible for researching sources of funding early (in some cases up to 12 months in advance) and applying (in conjunction with your agreed supervisor) for as many as possible. For further details of Graduate School funding competitions see the webpage at http://www.bath.ac.uk/hss/graduate-school/research-programmes/funding/
Skidmore, D. (2006). Pedagogy and dialogue. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(4), 503-514.
Skidmore, D. (2008). Once more with feeling: Utterance and social structure. Text & Talk, 28(1), 79-96.
Skidmore, D., & Murakami, K. (2010). How prosody marks shifts in footing in classroom discourse. International Journal of Educational Research, 49(2-3), 69-77.
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