As is said in Maoshixu (Mao’s Preface to the Book of Songs), “Emotions can be expressed through uttering sounds and the sounds will compose a rhythm when combined in an orderly regulated way.” In other words, sounds contribute to emotional expression and have a structure of their own. What is then the structure of sounds? It is believed that the most fundamental primitive structure of sounds is prosody (Llinás 2002:230; Fitch, 2000). Briefly speaking, prosody is the suprasegmental feature of sounds which is concerned with different rhythms being fast or slow, long or short, and sound features like a high or low pitch, and a strong or weak stress. Studies in Prosodic Grammar is a thriving field of linguistic research that tries to explore the suprasengmeantal feature of human languages.

Scholars in ancient China have noticed the linguistic phenomenon of prosody long before. The scholar Shen Yue (441-513) of the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420), when analyzing the verses of his time, held that: “we should make characters of different tonal patterns alternate with each other and ensure that the poetic couplet thus formed emerge in a relatively prominent manner. If the first line of the couplet contains characters of the level tone, then the second line must have characters of the non-level tone. The five characters of each line should differentiate one from another in terms of low and high pitch levels and the two lines must have completely different stress patterns.” (Biographies and Commentary of Xie Lingyun from Songshu). Furthermore, in order to explain “gaoyang zhi pi羔羊之皮 ” ‘lamb-sheep’s skin “the skin of lambs’ in Shaonan of the Book of Songs, the philologist Kong Yingda of the Tang dynasty proposed that “the text says lamb with sheep, because lamb is also a kind of sheep, in order to balance the sentence it mentions both lamb and sheep.” Here, Shen Yue’s proposal of “level and non-level tones” and Kong Yingda’s analysis of “xie-ju 諧句”‘to balance the sentence’, “zu-ju足句”‘to fulfill the sentence‘, “yuan-wen圓文”‘to round off the sentence’ all constitute the well-known metrical study in the history of Chinese literature.

Nevertheless, prosodic studies of human languages have not become an independent field for quite a long time. This is particularly true for prosodic studies in the field of literature research. Such an awkward situation exists not only in the study of Chinese but also in the study of other languages including English. As is acutely pointed out by the famous metrical phonologist Bruce Hayes, “the field of metrics is, sadly, a fragmented one, conducted without benefit of an established scholarly association or journal.” (Hayes 2010:2515). By far, there has not been a single specific journal on prosodic studies in the international academic circle. Now, the publication of Studies in Prosodic Grammar has undoubtedly filled the gap.

We are lucky now to conduct prosodic studies since Metrical Phonology has emerged as a discipline in its own right. “Metrical Phonology begins with Liberman’s notion that linguistic prominence crucially involves a relation between nodes in a binary-branching tree structure,” says Ladd in Intonational Phonology (2008:55). Moreover, the interface studies between prosody and other modules of linguistics have witnessed a dramatic development in recent years. On the one hand, the principle of phonology-free syntax, once a well-accepted norm, has come to a dead end. On the other hand, Prosodic Morphology has gained its independence as a discipline and Prosodic Syntax has flourished with the recent study of “prosodic blocking” and “prosodic activating” as well as the proposal of “prosody-syntax co-hierarchy.” There are even more remarkable achievements: Prosodic Stylistics, Poetic Prosody and Prosodic Chanting have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain. Thus, these different fields all converge to constitute the extensive range of prosodic studies just like different rivers flow together to form vast waters.

Simpson (2014) asserts that “the continued study of prosody and syntax interactions, whether as a study synchronically across different varieties of Chinese or (quite possibly) as a study diachronically, promises to be a rich and very informative area of future research for Chinese linguistics, and in ways that Chinese can also make important contribution to the general theories of human language” (Simpson 2014:489). This is the vision that Studies in Prosodic Grammar is striving for and also the important stage set up by Studies in Prosodic Grammar for all the researchers with the shared aspirations and interests.


Simpson, A. (2014). Prosody and syntax. In C.-J. James Huang , Y.-H. Audrey Li and Andrew Simpson (Eds.) Handbook of Chinese Linguistics. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons. 465-491.

Ladd, D. R. 1996. Intonational Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hayes, B. 2010. Review of Meter in Poetry by Nigel Fabb and Morris Halle. Lingua, 120: 2515–2521.

Fitch W. T. 2000. The evolution of speech: a comparative review. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4(7): 258-267.

Llinás R. R. 2002. I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.