Sunday, May 20, 2012

Body movement on tonic stress and emphasis

In this 2009 study in the Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, Bull and Connelly make a striking observation about the relationship between emphasis and tonic (word or phrasal) stress in English as expressed paralinguistically by native speakers. In essence, some kind of synchronized body movement was (visually) evident on most tonic syllables in the study. Emphasis, on the other hand, tended to be evident in more exaggerated head and arm movement, mapped onto tonic syllables. What it points to is the felt sense of English rhythm: moving along with and on tonic syllables, most of that grounded in subtle (or not so subtle) upper torso nods or movement generated in part by the diaphragm contracting and pushing more air "up" on stressed vowels. So, does it make sense in EHIEP work to practice haptically-integrated rhythm groups (with some kind of touch located on the tonic syllable)? It does from a couple of perspectives, in fact. First, it anchors the stressed element of the word or phrase. Second, most of the pedagogical movement patterns are designed to be synced with a slight head nod and upper torso nod--although the explicit focus is only on the arm movement and hands touching. (In some cases, the PMP is preceded by explicit "breathe in" and executed with controlled exhaling of air as well.) I cannot emphasize enough how effective that anchoring can be. Tonic syllables are definitely worth stressing (and moving) over!

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