Suprasegmental characteristics in speech definition and features


A suprasegment is called a type of information that is in the signal and that is not directly related to the identification of the qualities of a segment (vowel or consonant) but rather highlights one element over another (such as the accent) or either produces a more global effect on a statement (such as the melody of the phrase). The same sentence can be said as a statement or as a question. In this article we will define you the Suprasegmental characteristics in speech.

There are phonemes (segmental) and prosodemas (suprasegments), phonemes are segmentable one by one and prosodemas can affect several together; in the suprasegments acoustic and articulatory indices intervene that are also present in the realization of the segments and suprasegments such as: the vibration of the vocal cords, duration, intensity or accent; In the segments, the aforementioned indices make up certain features that are inherent to each phoneme, and only to it; in suprasegments, the prosodic feature affects more than one phoneme, that is, syllable, word, sentence.

Suprasegmental features

Suprasegmental features are those characteristics that enrich the spoken chain, allow us to know the intentionality, tonality of what we are talking about, they are known as suprasegmental features: accent, intonation, pauses and tone.

The accent is the enhancement of a syllable within the word, intonation consists of highlighting one or more syllables within the word, making them distinguish one from the other; the tone corresponds to the increase of energy within a word, the pauses are the spaces between the spoken chain that favor the understanding of the message.

When there are alterations in communication, suprasegmental traits can be altered and likewise affect the oral communication of the person, within the various speech and language pathologies in children, the alteration of these traits affects the intelligibility of speech, risking oral communication and influencing in the child’s interaction with his environment.

Suprasegmental Traits/Characteristics

We call suprasegmental features to those characteristics that are presented and superimposed on linear elements and that affect segments larger than the phoneme. The three most relevant suprasegmental features in Spanish are: accent, pauses, and intonation.

1-The accent 

It is known as the force with which we pronounce a vowel phoneme of each word. Although it always falls on a vowel, it affects the entire syllable, making it stand out from the other syllables of each word. This allows you to distinguish between stressed (stressed) and unstressed (unstressed) syllables.

2-The Pauses

The pauses are the silences that can be more or less long that interrupt the speech and separate some segments (phrases, phrases…) from others. These pauses serve a double function: first, they allow us to rest and coordinate breathing with speech; on the other, they contribute or alter part of the meaning of the message. We can find the following types of pauses:

  • Explanatory pause. It is the pause that occurs at the beginning and at the end of an explanatory statement included in a larger statement.
  • Potential pause: it is done voluntarily. It can be caused by a change in the normal order of the sentence,
  • Significant pause. It refers to the pause whose presence or absence totally changes the meaning of the statement.


Intonation is defined as the melodic line of a phrase, it constitutes the main characteristic of the phrase. This depends on the variations in the frequency of vibration of the vocal cords. It covers the entire sentence and can contribute to the change of meaning and the expression of certain psychic states or feelings, such as satisfaction, rejection, anger, etc. We can distinguish between the intonation in the enunciative sentence, in the interrogative and in the exclamatory sentence


For some authors, intonation and prosody are synonymous, that is, they share characteristics, however, prosody differs from intonation because within the spoken chain it maintains the rhythm of speech, while intonation accentuates parts of the spoken chain. Prosody has some functions within communication:

  • Cohesive or integrating function: It divides the spoken chain, so that the listener can perceive it as an exchange of tones.
  • Delimiting function: It is the segmentation of the statement or speech into smaller units related to its structure.

Prosody also has an important role within language, especially in pragmatics, it allows us to understand the intention that the sender wants to transmit to the receiver. Through prosody, the sender can highlight new information that he wants to emphasize towards the receiver.


It is the repetition of a pattern and is important for the perception of events that occur in a certain rhythm. Differences in rhythm have a communicative function, within the emotional field of language.

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