Semantic prosody, also discourse prosody, describes the way in which certain seemingly neutral words can be perceived with positive or negative associations through frequent occurrences with particular collocations. Similar to linguistic prosody.
An example given by John Sinclair is the verb set in, which has a negative prosody: e.g. rot (with negative associations) is a prime example of what is going to 'set in'. Another well-known example is the verb sense of cause, which is also used mostly in a negative context (accident, catastrophe, etc.), though one can also say that something "caused happiness".
In recent years, linguists have used corpus linguistics and concordancing software to find many hidden associations that lend nonneutral connotation to the usual or majority perception of verbal expression. The software is used to arrange key words in context from a corpus of several million words of naturally-occurring text. The collocates can then be arranged alphabetically according to first or second word to the right or to the left. Using such a method, Elena Tognini-Bonelli (2001) found that the word largely occurred more frequently with negative words or expressions, while broadly appeared more frequently with positive ones. Lexicographers have often failed to allow for semantic prosody when defining a word, although with the recent development and increasing use of computers, the field of corpus linguistics is now being combined with that of lexicography.
- Sinclair, John M. (1991). "Words and phrases". Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford: OUP. pp. 70–75. ISBN 0-19-437144-1.
- Stubbs, M. (1996) 'Text and Corpus Analysis'. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Stefanowitsch, Anatol and Stefan Th. Gries (2003), 'Collostructions: Investigating the Interaction of Words and Constructions.' In: International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 8:2,pp. 209-243.
- Louw, Bill (1993) Irony in the Text or Insincerity in the Writer? The Diagnostic Potential of Semantic Prosodies. In Baker, M., Francis, G. & Tognini-Bonelli, E. (eds) "Text and Technology: In Honour of John Sinclair. Philadelphia/Amsterdam: John Benjamins.pp. 157–76.
- Tognini-Bonelli, E. (2001) Corpus Linguistics at Work. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.