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Intonation (linguistics)

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In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. (Compare tone.) Intonation and stress are two main elements of linguistic prosody.

All languages use pitch pragmatically, that is, as intonation, for instance for emphasis, to convey surprise or irony, or to pose a question. Tonal languages such as Chinese and Hausa use pitch to distinguish words in addition to intonation.

Generally speaking, we can identify the following intonations:

  • Rising Intonation means the pitch of the voice increases over time [↗];
  • Falling Intonation means that the pitch decreases with time [↘];
  • Dipping Intonation falls and then rises [↘↗];
  • Peaking Intonation rises and then falls [↗↘].

The classic example of intonation is the question-statement distinction. For example, northeastern American English, like very many languages,[1] has a rising intonation for echo or declarative questions (He found it on the street?), and a falling intonation for wh- questions (Where did he find it?) and statements (He found it on the street.). Yes or no questions (Did he find it on the street?) often have a rising end, but not always. Some languages like Chickasaw and Kalaallisut have the opposite pattern: rising for statements and falling with questions.

Dialects of British and Irish English vary substantially,[2] with rises on many statements in urban Belfast, and falls on most questions in urban Leeds.

Those with congenital amusia show impaired ability to discriminate, identify and imitate the intonation of the final words in sentences.[3]

Transcription Edit

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, global rising and falling intonation are marked with a diagonal arrow rising left-to-right [↗] and falling left-to-right [↘], respectively. These may be written as part of a syllable, or separated with a space when they have a broader scope:

He found it on the street?
[ hiː ˈfaʊnd ɪt | ɒn ðə ↗ˈˈstɹiːt ‖ ]

Here the rising pitch on street indicates that the question hinges on that word, on where he found it, not whether he found it.

Yes, he found it on the street.
[↘ˈjɛs ‖ hi ˈfaʊnd ɪt | ɒn ðə ↘ˈstɹiːt ‖ ]
How did you ever escape?
[↗ˈˈhaʊ dɪdjuː | ˈɛvɚ | ɨ↘ˈˈskeɪp ‖ ]

Here, as is common with wh- questions, there is a rising intonation on the question word, and a falling intonation at the end of the question.

More detailed transcription systems for intonation have also been developed, such as ToBI (Tones and Break Indices), RaP (Rhythm and Pitch), and INTSINT [1].

Lexicalized intonation Edit

English intonation may become semi-lexicalized in common expressions such as "dunno" ([I] don't know), and therefore starts to approach the domain of tone. Pitch also plays a role in distinguishing acronyms that might otherwise be mistaken for common words. For example, in the phrase "Nike asks that you Template:Sm 'Participate in the Lives of America's Youth'",[4] the acronym Template:Sm may be pronounced with a high tone to distinguish it from the verb 'play', which would also make sense in this context. Alternatively, each letter could be said individually, so Template:Sm might become "P-L-A-Y" or "P.L.A.Y.". However, the high tone is only employed for disambiguation and is therefore contrastive intonation rather than true lexical tone.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 *Hirst, D.J. & Di Cristo, A. (eds) 1998. Intonation Systems. A survey of Twenty Languages. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press). [ISBN 0521395135 (Hardback); ISBN 052139550X (Paperback)].
  2. Grabe, E. (2004). Intonational variation in urban dialects of English spoken in the British Isles In Gilles, P. and Peters, J. (eds.) Regional Variation in Intonation. Linguistische Arbeiten, Tuebingen, Niemeyer, pp. 9-31.
  3. Liu F, Patel AD, Fourcin A, Stewart L. (2010). Intonation processing in congenital amusia: discrimination, identification and imitation. Brain. 133(Pt 6):1682-93. Template:Doi PMID 20418275
  4. Advertisement read on NPR

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