Structure of intonation

Lecture 1

Intonation is a language universal. There are no languages which are spoken as a monotone, i.e. without any change of prosodic parameters, but intonation functions in various languages in a different way.

Unfortunately many teachers do not concentrate their attention upon the study of intonation so this is something which lags behind. One reason for this state of affairs is that a very special skill is required in the recognition of intonation variations. This skill is more difficult to acquire than the ability to recognize strange sounds for two reasons. Intonation is used by native speakers even more unconsciously than are sounds, and - no attempt is made in print to convey intonation, whereas even in a language so abominably spelt as English the orthography continually reminds the reader of the sounds he must produce. The second reason is that we have at our disposal a far more detailed analysis of the sounds of English than of its intonation.

Intonation is a complex, a whole, formed by significant variations of pitch, loudness, tempo and rhythm (i.e. the rate of speech and pausation) closely related.

On the acoustic level pitch correlates with the fundamental frequency of the vibration of the vocal cords; loudness correlates with the amplitude of vibrations; tempo is a correlate of time during which a speech unit lasts.

Each syllable of the speech chain has a special pitch colouring. Some of the syllables have significant moves of tone up and down. Each syllable bears a definite amount of loudness. Pitch movements are inseparably connected with loudness. Together with the tempo of speech they form an intonation pattern which is the basic unit of intonation. An intonation pattern contains one nucleus and may contain other stressed or unstressed syllables normally preceding or following the nucleus. The boundaries of an intonation pattern may be marked by stops of phonation, that is temporal pauses.

Intonation patterns serve to actualize syntagms in oral speech. The syntagm is a group of words which is semantically and syntactically complete. In phonetics actualized syntagms are called intonation groups.

Not all stressed syllables are of equal importance. One of the syllables has the

greater prominence than the others and forms the nucleus (focal point, semantic center, focus, prominence) of an intonation pattern. Formally the nucleus may be described as a strongly stressed syllable which is generally the last strongly accented syllable of an intonation pattern and which marks a significant change of pitch direction, that is where the pitch goes distinctly up or down. The nuclear tone is the most important part of the intonation pattern without which the latter cannot exist at all. On the other hand an intonation pattern may consist of one syllable which is its nucleus.

The most important nuclear tones in English are:

Low Fall - No

High Fall - No

Low Rise - No

High Rise - No

Fall-Ris - No

Rise Fall - No

The meanings of the nuclear tones are difficult to specify in general terms. Roughly speaking the falling tone of any level and range expresses "certainty", "completeness", "independence". Thus a straight-forward statement normally ends with a falling tone since it asserts a fact of which the speaker is certain. It has an air of finality, e.g.

Where's John? He hasn't come yet.

What's the time? - It's \'nearly 'five o\c1ock.

A rising tone of any level and range on the contrary expresses "uncertainty", "incompleteness" or "dependence". A general question, for instance, has a rising tone, as the speaker is uncertain of the truth of what he is asking about, e.g.

I think I'll go now. - "'Are you ready?

Michael is coming to London. - ls he ' coming soon?

1. The English Low Fallin the nucleus starts somewhat higher than the mid-level and usually reaches the LOWEST PITCH LEVEL. It is represented graphically with a downward curve on the tonogram and its tone mark in the text is ↘. The use of the Low Fall enables the speaker to convey in his utterance an impression of neutral, calm finality, de, resoluteness. Phrases with the Low Fall sound categoric, calm, neutral, final.

2. The English High Fallin the nucleus starts very high and usually reaches the lowest pitch. The High Fall provides a great degree of prominence, which depends on the height of the fall. Its tone mark in the text is ↘. The use of the High Fall adds personal concern, interest and warmth to the features characteristic of the Low Fall. The High Fall sounds lively, interested and airy in statements, It sounds very emotional and warm, too.

3. The English Low Risein the nucleus starts from the lowest level and reaches the medium level (the nuclear variant). If the nucleus is followed by a tail, it is pronounced on the lowest level and the syllables of the tail rise gradually (the nuclear-post-nuclear variant). The two variants of the Low Rise (the nuclear and the nuclear-post-nuclear) are pronounced in a different way and consequently they have different graphical representations on the tonogram, but the same tone marks in the text. The Low Rise conveys a feeling of non-finality, incompleteness, hesitation. Phrases pronounced with this tone sound not categorical, non-final, encouraging further conversation, wondering, mildly puzzled, soothing.

4. The English HighRisein the nucleus rises from a medium to a high pitch, if there is no tail. If there are unstressed syllables following the nucleus, the latter is pronounced on a fairly high level pitch and the syllables of the tail rise gradually. The High-Rise expresses the speaker's active searching for information. It is often used in echoed utterances, calling for repetition or additional information or with the intention to check if the information has been received correctly. Sometimes this tone is meant to keep the conversation going.

5. The Fall-Riseis called a compound tone as it actually may present a combination of two tones: either the Low Fall-Low Rise or the High Fall-Low Rise. The Low Fall-Rise may be spread over one, two or a number of syllables; the High Fall-Rise always occurs on separate syllables. If the Low Fall-Rise is spread over one syllable, the fall occurs on the first part of the vowel from a medium till a low pitch, the rise occurs on the second part of the vowel very low and does not go up too high: ↘↗No (the undivided variant).

If the fall and rise occur on different syllables, any syllables occurring between them are said on a very low pitch, notional words are stressed:

I think his face is familiar (the divided variant)

The falling part marks the idea which the speaker wants to emphasize and the rising part marks the addition to this main idea.

The Fall-Rise is a highly implicatory tone. The speaker using this tone leaves something unsaid known both to him and his interlocutor. It is often used in statements and imperatives. Statements with the Fall-Rise express correction of what someone else has said or a contradiction to something previously said or a warning. Imperatives pronounced this way sound pleading. Greetings and leave-takings sound pleasant and friendly being pronounced with the Fall-Rise:

He is thirty. He is thirty-five (a mild correction).

WeII go there.- You ↘↗ shan't. (a contradiction).

I must be on time. You'll be late ( a warning).

It's all so awful. Cheer up. (pleading).

Goodnight, Betty. Good night, Mrs. Sandford. (friendly).

6. The Rise-Fallis also a compound tone. In syllables pronounced with the Rise-Fall the voice first rises from a fairly low to a high pitch, and then quickly falls to a very low pitch; e. g.:

Are you sure? ↗↘Yes.

The Rise-Fall denotes that the speaker is deeply impressed (favorably or unfavorably). Actually the Rise-Fall sometimes expresses the meaning of "even". E.g.:

You aren't ↗↘trying. (You aren't even trying).

This nuclear tone is used in statements and questions which sound impressed, challenging, disclaiming responsibility, imperatives pronounced this way sound hostile and disclaiming responsibility. E.g.:

Don't treat me like a baby. Be ↗↘sensible then.

Has he proposed to her? - Why should you ↗↘worry about it?

Did you like it? I simply ↗↘hated it.

I'm awfully sorry. No ↗↘doubt. (But it's too late for apologies).

7. The Mid-Leveltone in the nucleus is pronounced on the medium level with any following tail syllables on the same level. Its tone mark in the text is > and it is marked on the tonogram with a dash: .The Mid-Level is usually used in non-final intonation groups expressing non-finality without any expression of expectancy:

Couldn't you help me ? >At present | I'm too busy.

What did Tom say? >Naturally, | he was delighted.

The English dialogic speech is highly emotional, that's why such emphatic tones as the High Fall and the Fall-Rise prevail in it. It is interesting to note, that the most frequently occurring nuclear tone in English the Low Fall occupies the fourth place in dialogic speech after the High Fall, the Fall-Rise and the Low Rise.

Parenthetical and subsidiary information in a statement is also often spoken with a rising tone, or a mid-level tone, because this information is incomplete, being dependent for its full understanding on the main assertion, e.g.

Im not sure I can join you now. If you > like we can go to the picnic ↘ later.

Encouraging or polite denials, commands, invitations, greetings, farewells etc. are generally spoken with a rising tone.

What shall 1 do now? - Do go ↗on.

Could you join us? - Not now.

A falling-rising tone may combine the falling tone's meaning of "assertion", "certainty" with the rising tone's meaning of dependence, incompleteness. At the end of a phrase it often conveys a feeling of reservation; that is, it asserts something and at the same time suggests that there is something else to be said, e.g.

Do you like pop-music? - Sometimes. (but not in general)

At the beginning or in the middle of a phrase it is a more forceful alternative to the rising tone, expressing the assertion of one point, together with the implication that another point is to follow:

↘Those who 'work in the ↘↗offices ↘ought to take 'plenty of ↘exercise.

The falling-rising tone, as its name suggests, consists of a fall in pitch followed by a rise. If the nucleus is the last syllable of the intonation group the fall and rise both take place on one syllable the nuclear syllable. Otherwise the rise occurs in the remainder of the tone unit, cf.:

Do you agree with him? - ↘↗Yes

What can I do to mend matters? You could a↘pologize to her.

Where the Rise of the Fall-Rise extends to a stressed syllable after the nucleus we signal the falling-rising tone by placing the fall on the nucleus and a rise on the later stressed syllable. In English there is often clear evidence of an intonation-group boundary, but no audible nuclear tone movement preceding. In such a circumstance two courses are open: either one may classify the phenomenon as a further kind of head or one may consider it to be the level nuclear tone. The weight of evidence seems to force the second solution, for the following reasons:

1. The final level tone is always more prominent than the others, e.g.

I'm afraid I can't manage it. - In ↘view of all the > circumstances ׀ why not try a ↘gain?

Also the syllable on which it occurs is lengthened substantially, and there is a clear rhythmic break between what precedes and what follows.

2. This tone nearly always occurs on the last lexical item (which is not obligatory in spontaneous speech) before a phonetic boundary and this is distributionally similar to a nuclear tone.

3. In subordinate structures this tone may be replaced by a rising-type tone.

4. In non-subordinate structures this tone has a particular range of meaning (boredom, sarcasm, etc.) which is very similar in force to other nuclear semantic functions. Low-Level tone is very characteristic of reading poetry. Though occasionally heard in reading Mid-Level tone is particularly common in spontaneous speech functionally replacing the rising tone.

As has been mentioned before, the change in the pitch of the word which is most important semantically, is called a nuclear tone. Other words in the sentence also important for the meaning are stressed but their pitch remains unchanged.

The nucleus may be preceded or followed by stressed and unstressed syllables. Stressed syllables preceding the nucleus together with the intervening unstressed syllables form the head of a tone unit. Initial unstressed syllables make the pre-head. Unstressed and half-stressed syllables following the nucleus are called the tail.

The tone of a nucleus determines the pitch of the rest of the intonation pattern following it which is called the tail. Thus after a falling tone, the rest of the intonation pattern is at a low pitch. After a rising tone the rest of the intonation pattern moves in an upward pitch direction, cf.:

↘No, Mary. - ↘Well, Mary.

The nucleus and the tail form what is called terminal tone.The headand the pre-headform the pre-nuclear part of the intonation pattern and; like the tail, they may be looked upon as optional elements, e.g.

Lake District ׀ is one of the ↘loveliest 'parts of ↘Britain.

Usually a nucleus will be present in a tone unit; other elements may not be realized, i. e. the possibilities for combining the elements of a tone unit may be as follows:

Pre-head Head Nucleus Tail
1. 2. 3. 4. I'llask 5. I'llask. 6. I 7. I     What should I what to what to do do Do. Do do? do. do   something     about it   it.

The pre-nuclear part can take a variety of pitch patterns. Variation within the pre-nucleus does not usually affect the grammatical meaning of the utterance, though it often conveys meanings associated with attitude or phonetic styles. There are three common types of pre-nucleus: a descending type in which the pitch gradually descends (often in steps) to the nucleus; an ascending type in which the syllables form an ascending sequence and a level type when all the syllables stay more or less on the same level:

As the examples show, the different types of pre-nucleus do not affect the grammatical meaning of the sentence but they can convey something of the speaker's attitude.

Variations in pitch range ( ) occur within the normal range of the human voice, i.e. within its upper and lower limits. Three pitch ranges are generally distinguished: normal, wide, narrow:

Pitch levels ( ) may be high, medium and low.

The meaning of the intonation group is the combination of the "meaning" of the terminal tone and the pre-nuclear part combined with the "meaning" of pitch range and pitch level.

The parts of the intonation pattern can be combined in various ways manifesting changes in meaning, cf.: the High Head combined with the Low Fall, the High Fall, the Low Rise, the High Rise, the Fall-Rise in the phrase "Not at all!"

The tempoof speech as the third component of intonation implies the rate of the utterance and pausation.The rate of speech can be normal, slowand 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, emphaticand hesitationpauses. Syntactic pauses separate phonopassages, phrases and intonation groups.

Emphatic pauses serve to make especially prominent certain parts of the utterance:

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.

Our ear can also perceive a pause when there is no stop of phonation at all. It may happen because a stop of phonation is not the only factor indicating an intonation unit boundary. The first and the main factor is a perceivable pitch change, either stepping down or stepping up, depending on the direction of nuclear tone movement. The other criterion is the presence of junctural features at the end of each intonation group. This usually takes the form of a pause but there are frequently accompanying segmental phonetic modifications (variations in tempo, aspiration etc.) which reinforce this.

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.

Some intonation patterns may be completely colourless in meaning: they give to the listener no implication of the speaker's attitude or feeling. They serve a mechanical function they provide a mould into which all sentences may be poured so that they achieve utterance.



  1. Divergences in the semantic structure of words
  2. Lexical meaning and its structure.
  3. The definition of structure primary crystallized from melt of a firm phase
  4. The English word as a structure.

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