Tracking Prose Rhythm. A Validated Coding Manual for Prosodic Phrasing and Syllable Prominence

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Christine A. Knoop @Christine

:classical_building: Affiliation: Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

Title: Tracking Prose Rhythm. A Validated Coding Manual for Prosodic Phrasing and Syllable Prominence

Abstract (long version below): In this paper, we present a validated coding manual developed on the basis of a metrical grid for prosodic phrasing and syllable prominence in prose. It is designed to mark the relative prominence of syllable and caesura duration in the literary texts, and, on a more basic level, to deduct information on phrase, sentence, and paragraph length. With this tool, we aim to contribute to the systematic study of literary prose rhythm.


[example to be replaced]

:newspaper: Long abstract

Attempts to track and describe prose rhythm date back to antiquity. Based on a complex metrical grid, this paper presents a validated coding manual for annotating two primary factors influencing prose rhythm in German prose: prosodic phrasing and syllable prominence (Franz et al., 2022, preprint). While its uses extend far beyond the systematic study of literature, it was originally developed to provide the basis for comparing the rhythm of literary prose at different times, by different authors and in different individual texts.

Metrical grids are supposed to reflect relative syllable prominence (Liberman & Prince, 1977), and partly account for the domains of the Prosodic Hierarchy (Halle & Vergnaud, 1987). However, their use for empirical studies is limited to highly controlled and short sentences. Also, current systems using metrical grids for syllable prominence prediction focus on decoding small verses (for poetry see Lerdahl, 2001), or on syntax/semantic-based automatic decoding of sentences that need to be annotated syntactically (Windmann et al., 2011). A replicable system for manually coding syllable prominence and prosodic boundaries in longer sentences or even texts is lacking so far, let alone its validation with the phonetic realization.

Based on work in the fields of metrical phonology (Kiparsky, 1966; Liberman & Prince, 1977) and existing prominence and pause coding systems (Gee & Grosjean, 1983; Windmann et al., 2011), we developed a manual for coding syllable prominence (yielding up to 9 degrees of prominence) and prosodic boundaries (with 6 degrees of juncture, including positions where a boundary is particularly unlikely). The manual consists of a set of rules that are to be applied in a prescribed order; these rules mainly refer to simple cues in the text, like word/syllable count, part of speech, word position and punctuation. The coding system is based on the understanding that syllable prominence and boundary strength determine each other.

Three independent annotators applied the coding system to the beginning pages of four different German novels (~90 000 syllables, Fleiss kappa .88). For the phonetic validation, eight professional speakers read the texts aloud. We annotated the speech signal automatically with MAUS (Schiel, 1999). Using PRAAT (Boersma & Weenink, 2019), we extracted F0 range and duration for each syllable and compared it to predicted syllable prominence (Figure 1-2). We further compared pause duration to predicted prosodic boundary strength (Figure 3). The validation with the speech signal shows that our annotation system reliably predicts syllable prominence and prosodic boundaries. In comparison to Gee and Grosjean (1983), who developed a system to predict pauses from text with an infinite number of boundary degrees, our system generates six degrees. This is comparable to GTOBI (Baumann et al., 2000) where the speech signal is annotated. Since our annotation works with plain text, there are additional potential applications of the coding system, covering synthetic speech and (psycho-)linguistic research on prosody.


Baumann, S., Grice, M., & Benzmüller, R. (2000). GToBI-a phonological system for the transcription of German intonation. In Prosody (pp. 21-28).

Boersma, P., & D. Weenink (2019). Praat: doing phonetics by computer (Version 6.0. 52)[Windows].

Franz, I., Knoop, C. A., Kentner, G., Rothbart, S., Kegel, V., Vasilieva, J., Methner, S., Scharinger, M. & Menninghaus, W. (2022). Prosodic Phrasing and Syllable Prominence in Spoken Prose. A Validated Coding Manual. OSF Preprint.

Gee, J. P., & Grosjean, F. (1983). Performance structures: A psycholinguistic and linguistic appraisal. Cognitive psychology, 15(4), 411-458.

Halle, M., & Vergnaud, J. R. (1987). Stress and the cycle. Linguistic Inquiry, 18(1), 45-84.

Kiparsky, P. (1966). Über den deutschen Akzent. Studia grammatica, 7, 69-98.

Lerdahl, F. (2001). The sounds of poetry viewed as music. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 930(1),337–354.

Liberman, M., & A. Prince (1977). On stress and linguistic rhythm. Linguistic Inquiry, 8(2): 249–336.

Schiel, F. (1999). Automatic phonetic transcription of non-prompted speech. 14th International Conference of Phonetic Science, 1–7 August 1999, San Francisco.

Windmann, A., I. Jauk, F. Tamburini, & P. Wagner. (2011). Prominence- based prosody prediction for unit selection speech synthesis. 12th Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, 27–31 August 2011, Florence.