Prosody I

Written by Esther Rimer on January 29th, 2009 | 2 Comments

I’d like to take a few posts to chat about prosody. Prosody is usually something that is only really covered in intermediate to advanced cue classes. Beginner classes are (of course) concentrated around getting you to learn how to cue words with at least a modicum of accuracy and fluency. But sometimes even cueing pros become so wrapped up in whether they are cueing something accurately that they forget another very important ingredient in communication… prosody! 


What is prosody?

pro•so•dy (noun) :    the patterns of stress and intonation in a language.


What does it involve? 

With spoken language, it involves pitch, stress, and syllabic length. With cued language, there are two main components:

Facial and/or gestural indicators.

  • often follow stress, voice changes, tone, rhythm, etc.
  • eyebrows, shoulders, head tilts, upper body motions, are just a few of these indicators. Many people use them naturally to differing degrees when communicating.


  • of emphasis, hesitation, or by-products of syllabics.
  • think about the phrase, “That that is, is.” Where are the pauses? What happens if you leave them out?


Why should you develop cueing skills in prosody, along with accuracy and fluency? 

Prosody in spoken languages imparts a LOT of meaning and emotion. All good storytellers are pros with prosody. Recall that in this day and age of emails and IMing, people talk about how meaning (especially implied meaning) is sometimes lost when not communicating face to face or voice to voice. If prosody is not used when cueing, nor faithfully transliterated, that same loss of meaning can happen- even with the visual medium of Cued Speech providing access to words. In my opinion as a native cuer, prosody is just as important a skill to cultivate as accuracy and fluency. 

I was once subjected to a transliterated rendition of the American national anthem during a school assembly, done without an ounce of verve or vim. It was a disgrace to Francis Scott Key.

Another transliterator was a pro with prosody… she would even cue the gravelly voice of the history teacher, and her transliteration actually looked “gravelly” to me- all grindy and gray, just like the teacher’s voice sounded to her! She could pick up the moods and idiosyncrasies of teachers… sarcasm, anger, boredom, etc. and show them through her cueing. 

Some parents of hearing children like to use different voices for characters when reading to their kids. Cueing can be used in the exact same manner, with prosody!


With cued language, you have the ability to convey not only phonemes, but idiosyncrasies of language, implied meaning, and emotions. The addition of that extra layer of communication grabs more attention (helpful with easily distracted children!) and can make communication clearer.


Stay tuned for part 2, with more examples and some ideas for improving your prosodic cueing. If you have questions, please ask!



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2 Responses to “Prosody I”

  1. avatar Lynn Beech

    Esther – Awesome article! Often cueing here (Alberta) is combined with SEE, rather than cueing alone. This article really sheds light on the language of English provided through the system of Cued Speech. Thanks!

    Looking forward to part 2!

  2. avatar Prosody II » We Cue! - Discussion on how to live, learn, and work using Cued Speech

    [...] This is the continuation of my first post about Prosody, and why we should cue it. [...]

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