Rhythm, Pausation and Tempo.

1. Rhythm.

2. Tempo and pausation.


1. Rhythm. We cannot fully describe English intonation without reference to speech rhythm. Prosodic components (pitch, loudness, tempo) and speech rhythm work interdependently. Rhythm seems to be a kind of speech organization framework. Linguists sometimes consider it as one of the components of intonation.

Rhythm as a linguistic notion is realized in lexical, syntactical and prosodic means and mostly in their combinations. For instance, such figures of speech as sound or word repetition, syntactical parallelism, intensification and others are perceived as rhythmical on the lexical, syntactical and prosodic levels.

In speech, the type of rhythm depends on the language. Linguists divide languages into two groups: syllable-timed like French, Spanish and other Romance languages and stress-timed languages, such as Germanic languages English and German, as well as Ukrainian. In a syllable-timed language the speaker gives an approximately equal amount of time to each syllable, whether the syllable is stressed or unstressed and this produces the effect of even rather staccato rhythm.

In a stress-timed language, of which English is a good example, the rhythm is based on a larger unit than syllable. Though the amount of time given on each syllable varies considerably, the total time of uttering each rhythmic unit is practically unchanged. The stressed syllables of a rhythmic unit form peaks of prominence. They tend to be pronounced at regular intervals no matter how many unstressed syllables are located between every two stressed ones. Thus the distribution of time within the rhythmic unit is unequal. The regularity is provided by the strong 'beats'.

Speech rhythm has the immediate influence on vowel reduction and elision. Form words such as prepositions, conjunctions as well as auxiliary and modal verbs, personal and possessive pronouns are usually unstressed and pronounced in their weak forms with reduced or even elided vowels to secure equal intervals between the stressed syllables.

The markedly regular stress-timed pulses of speech seem to create the strict effect of English rhythm. The English language is an analytical one. This factor explains the presence of a considerable number of monosyllabic form words which are normally unstressed in a stretch of English speech. To bring the meaning of the utterance to the listener the stressed syllables of the notional words are given more prominence by the speaker and the unstressed monosyllabic form words are left very weak. It is often reflected in the spelling norm in the conversational style, e.g. I'm sure you mustn't refuse him.

Speech rhythmis traditionally defined as recurrence of stressed syllables at more or less equal intervals of time in a speech continuum. We also find a more detailed definition of speech rhythm as the regular alternation of acceleration and slowing down, of relaxation and intensification, of length and brevity (), of similar and dissimilar elements within a speech event. In the present-day linguistics rhythm is analyzed as a system of similar adequate elements ‒ a complex language system which is formed by the interrelation of lexical, syntactic and prosodic means. It has long been believed that the basic rhythmic unitis a rhythmic group, a speech segment which contains a stressed syllable with preceding or/and following unstressed syllables attached to it. Another point of view is that a rhythmic group is one or more words closely connected by sense and grammar, but containing only strongly stressed syllable and being pronounced in one breath. The stressed syllable is the prosodic nucleus of the rhythmic group. The initial unstressed syllables preceding the nucleus are called proclitics, those following the nucleus are called enclitics, e.g.:

The 'doctor 'says its notquite serious = one intonation [four rhythmic groups]

ðə 'dɔktə 'sez its 'nɔt kwait ↘siəriəs
1st rhythmic group proclitics 2nd rhythmic group enclitics 3rd rhythmic group enclitics 4th rhythmic group enclitics

In qualifying the unstressed syllables located between the stressed ones there are two main alternative views among the phoneticians. According to the so-called semantic viewpoint the unstressed syllables tend to be drawn towards the stressed syllable of the same word or to the lexical unit according to their semantic connection, concord with other words, e.g.

Negro Harlem | became | the largest | colony | of coloured people.

According to the other viewpoint the unstressed syllables in between the stressed ones tend to join the preceding stressed syllable. It is the so-called enclitic tendency. Then the above-mentioned phrase will be divided into rhythmical groups as follows, e.g.

Negro Harlem | became the | largest | colony of | coloured people.

To acquire a good English speech rhythm the learner should: 1) arrange sentences into intonation groups and 2) then into rhythmic groups 3) link every word beginning with a vowel to the preceding word 4) weaken unstressed words and syllables and reduce vowels in them 5) make the stressed syllables occur regularly at equal periods of time.

Maintaining a regular beat from stressed syllable to stressed syllable and reducing intervening unstressed syllables can be very difficult for Ukrainian and Russian learners English. Their typical mistake is not giving sufficient stress to the content words and not sufficiently reducing unstressed syllables. Giving all syllables equal stress and the lack of selective stress on key/content words actually hinders native speakers' comprehension.

The rhythm-unit break is often indeterminate. It may well be said that the speech tempo and style often regulate the division into rhythmic groups. The enclitic tendency is more typical for informal speech whereas the semantic tendency prevails in accurate speech.

The more organized the speech is the more rhythmical it appears, poetry being the most extreme example of this. Prose read aloud or delivered in the form of a lecture is more rhythmic than colloquial speech. On the other hand rhythm is also individual a fluent speaker may sound more rhythmical than a person searching for the right word and refining the structure of his phrase while actually pronouncing it.

However, it is fair to mention here that absolutely regular speech produces the effect of monotony. The most frequent type of a rhythmic group includes 2-4 syllables, one of them stressed, others unstressed. In phonetic literature we find a great variety of terms defining the basic rhythmic unit, such as an accentual group or a stress group which is a speech segment including a stressed syllable with or without unstressed syllables attached to it; a pause group a group of words between two pauses, or breath group which can be uttered within a single breath. As you have probably noticed, the criteria for the definition of these units are limited by physiological factors. The term 'rhythmic group' used by most of the linguists implies more than a stressed group or breath group. Most rhythmic groups are simultaneously sense units. A rhythmic group may comprise a whole phrase, like 'I can't do it' or just one word: 'Unfortunately...' or even a one-syllable word: Well...; Now.... So a syllable is sometimes taken for a minimal rhythmic unit when it comes into play.

The ability to process, segment, and decode speech depends not only on the listener's knowledge of lexicon and grammar but also on being able to exploit knowledge of the phonetic means. It has been proved that the incoming stream of speech is not decoded on the word level alone. Having analyzed a corpus of 'mishearings' committed by native English speakers in everyday conversation, scholars have discovered the following four strategies (holding the stream of speech in short-term memory) which the speakers employ to process incoming speech:

1. Listeners attend to stressand intonationand construct a metrical template () a distinctive pattern of strongly and weakly stressed syllables - to fit the utterance.

2. They attend to stressed vowels. (It should be noted, however, that errors involving the perception of the stressed vowels are rare among native speakers).

3. They segment the incoming stream of speech and find words that correspond to the stressed vowelsand their adjacent consonants.

4. They seek a phrase with grammar and meaning ‒ compatible with the metrical template identified in the first strategy and the words identified in the third strategy.

All four strategies are carried out simultaneously. In addition to carrying out these strategies, listeners are also calling up their prior knowledge, or schemata (higher-order mental frameworks that organize and store knowledge), to help them make sense of the bits and pieces of information they perceive and identify using these strategies.


2. Tempo and pausation. The tempoof speech implies the rate of the utterance and pausation. The rate of speech can be normal, slow and fast. The parts of the utterance which are particularly important sound slower. Unimportant parts are commonly pronounced at a greater speed than normal.

Any stretch of speech can be split into smaller portions, i.e. phonetic wholes', phrases, intonation groups by means of pauses. By pausehere we mean a complete stop of phonation. It is sufficient to distinguish the following three kinds of pauses:

1. Short pauses which may be used to separate intonation groups within a phrase.

2. Longer pauses which normally manifest the end of the phrase.

3. Very long pauses, which are approximately twice as long as the first type, are used to separate phonetic wholes.

Functionally, there may be distinguished syntactic, emphatic and hesitation pauses. Syntactic pauses separate phonopassages, phrases, intonation groups.

Emphatic pauses serve to make especially prominent certain parts of the utterance, e.g.

She is the most charming girl I've ever seen.

Hesitation pauses are mainly used in spontaneous speech to gain some time to think over what to say next. They may be silent or filled, e.g.

She is rather a ... good student.

Where does she live? Um, not very far from here.

The changes of pitch, loudness and tempo tend to become formalized or standardized, so that all speakers of the language use them in similar ways under similar circumstances.


Answer the questions:

1. Define the tempo of speech.

2. What kind of pauses are there in English?

3. What is the semantic centre of an utterance?

4. Define rhythm.

5. Define rhythmic group.

6. What are proclitics and enclitics?

7. What is necessary for a learner to acquire a good English speech rhythm?

8. How is the incoming stream of speech decoded?

9. What is schemata?

10. What do listeners perform while decoding speech?

˳: [2, . 219-226; 4, c. 100-110].




  3. LECTURE 1. Contrastive Stylistic as a Linguistic Discipline
  4. Lecture 12. Evolution of the ME Lexical System.
  5. LECTURE 13
  6. Lecture 14. Evolution of the ME Nominal Morphology.
  7. Lecture 16
  8. Lecture 16
  9. Lecture 4

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