Phonetics - Unit Four - Lesson No. 20


Unlike segments (vowel and consonant sounds), suprasegmental features, namely, stress, rhythm and intonation, normally stretch over more than a single segment – possibly a syllable, a complete word or phrase, whole sentence or even more.

Carr (2008: 178) defines the term “suprasegmental” as concerning phonological phenomena above the level of segment, such as word stress, intonation and tone. For Trask (1996: 343), suprasegmental is a synonym to non-segmental and plurisegmental. It is a phonological element whose domain is something larger than a single segment and whose phonetic realization can only be described by reference to adjoining domains in the same utterance. The most familiar elements are stress, and tone (or pitch), though others are sometimes recognized. Suprasegmental elements are essentially the same as prosodic elements. The term was introduced by the American structuralists but is still in widespread use.

So many definitions have been proposed for the term “suprasegmental”. However, almost all of them maintain that the scope of suprasegmentals is something beyond the single segment and that suprasegmental features cannot be studied in isolation from each other. For example, primary stress cannot be studied without referring to secondary stress and intonation cannot be divorced from sentence stress or rhythm.

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