Intonation: approaches, definitions, functions
Intonation is a language universal. There are no languages which are spoken without any change of prosodic parameters but intonation functions in various languages in a different way.
There are two main approaches to the problem of intonation in Great Britain. One is known as acontour analysis and the other may be called grammatical.
The first is represented by a large group of phoneticians: H. Sweet, D. Jones, G. Palmer, L. Armstrong, I. Ward, R. Kingdon, J. O'Connor, A. Gimson and others. It is traditional and widely used. According to this approach the smallest unit to which linguistic meaning can beattached is a tone-group (sense-group). Their theory is based on the assumption that intonation consists of basic functional "blocks". They pay much attention to these "blocks" but not to the way they are connected. Intonation is treated by them as a layer that is superimposed on the lexico-grammatical structure. In fact the aim of communication determines the intonation structure, not vice versa.
The grammatical approach to the study of intonation was worked out by M. Halliday. The main unit of intonation is a clause. Intonation is a complex of three systemic variables: tonality, tonicity and tone, which are connected with grammatical categories. Tonality marks the beginning and the end of a tone-group. Tonicity marks the focal point of each tone-group. Tone is the third unit in Halliday's system. Tones can be primary and secondary. They convey the attitude of the speaker. Hallyday's theory is based on the syntactical function of intonation.
The founder of the American school of intonation K. Pike in his book «The Intonation of American English» considers «pitch phonemes» and «contours» to be the main units of intonation. He describes different contours and their meanings, but the word «meaning» stands apart from communicative function of intonation.
There is wide agreement among Russian linguists that on perception level intonation is a complex, a whole, formed by significant variations of pitch, loudness and tempo closely related. Some Russian linguists regard speech timbre as the fourth component of intonation. Neither its material form nor its linguistic function has been thoroughly described. Though speech timbre definitely conveys certain shades of attitudinal or emotional meaning there is no good reason to consider it alongside with the three prosodic components of intonation, i.e. pitch, loudness and tempo.
M. Sokolova and others write that the term prosody embraces the three prosodic components and substitutes the term intonation. It is widely used in linguistic literature, it causes no misunderstanding and, consequently, it is more adequate. They feel strongly that this term would be more suitable for their book too, but, unfortunately, it has not been accepted in the teaching process yet.
Many foreign scholars (A. Gimson, R. Kingdon) restrict the formal definition of intonation to pitch movement alone, though occasionally allowing in variations of loudness as well. According to D. Crystal, the most important prosodic effects are those conveyed by the linguistic use of pitch movement, or melody. It is clearly not possible to restrict the term intonation by the pitch parameters only because generally all the three prosodic parameters function as a whole though in many cases the priority of the pitch parameter is quite evident.
There is no general agreement about either the number or the headings of the functions of intonation which can be illustrated by the difference in the approach to the subject by some prominent Russian phoneticians. T.M. Nikolayeva names three functions of intonation: delimitating, integrating and semantic. L.K. Tseplitis suggests the semantic, syntactic and stylistic functions the former being the primary and the two latter being the secondary functions. N.V. Cheremisina singles out the following main functions of intonation: communicative, distinctive (or phonological), delimitating, expressive, appellative, aesthetic, integrating. Other Russian and foreign phoneticians also display some difference in heading the linguistic functions of intonation.
D. Crystal distinguishes the following functions of intonation.
• Emotional function's most obvious role is to express attitudinal meaning -sarcasm, surprise, reserve, impatience, delight, shock, anger, interest, and thousands of other semantic nuances.
• Grammatical function helps to identify grammatical structure in speech, performing a role similar to punctuation. Units such as clause and sentence often depend on intonation for their spoken identity, and several specific contrasts, such as question/statement, make systematic use of it.
• Informational function helps draw attention to what meaning is given and what is new in an utterance. The word carrying the most prominent tone in a contour signals the part of an utterance that the speaker is treating as new information.
• Textual function helps larger units of meaning than the sentence to contrast and cohere. In radio news-reading, paragraphs of information can be shaped through the use of pitch. In sports commentary, changes in prosody reflect the progress of the action.
• Psychological function helps us to organize speech into units that are easier to perceive and memorize. Most people would find a sequence of numbers, for example, difficult to recall. The task is made easier by using intonation to chunk the sequence into two units.
• Indexical function, along with other prosodic features, is an important marker of personal or social identity. Lawyers, preachers, newscasters, sports commentators, army sergeants, and several other occupations are readily identified through their distinctive prosody.
2. Components of intonation and the structure of English intonation group.
Let us consider the components of intonation.
In the pitch component we may consider the distinct variations in the direction of pitch, pitch level and pitch range.
According to R. Kingdon the most important nuclear tones in English are: Low Fall, High Fall, Low Rise, High Rise, and Fall-Rise.
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, and independence. A rising tone on the contrary expresses uncertainty, incompleteness or dependence. 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. 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. 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. 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. Low Level tone is very characteristic of reading poetry. Mid-Level tone is particularly common in spontaneous speech functionally replacing the rising tone. There are two more nuclear tones in English: Rise-Fall and Rise-Fall-Rise. But adding refinement to speech they are not absolutely essential tones for the foreign learner to acquire. Rise-Fall can always be replaced by High Fall and Rise-Fall-Rise by Fall-Rise without making nonsense of the utterance.
According to D. Crystal, there are nine ways of saying Yes as an answer to the question Will you marry me?
1. Low fall. The most neutral tone; a detached, unemotional statement of fact.
2. Full fall. Emotionally involved; the higher the onset of the tone, the more involved the speaker; choice of emotion (surprise, excitement, irritation) depends on the speaker's facial expression.
3. Mid fall. Routine, uncommitted comment; detached and unexcited.
4. Low rise. Facial expression important; with a 'happy' face, the tone is sympathetic and friendly; with a 'grim' face, it is guarded and ominous.
5. Full rise. Emotionally involved, often «disbelief or shock, the extent of the emotion depending on the width of the tone.
6. High rise. Mild query or puzzlement; often used in echoing what has just been said.
7. Level. Bored, sarcastic, ironic.
8. Fall-rise. A strongly emotional tone; a straight or 'negative' face conveys uncertainty, doubt, or tentativeness; a positive face conveys encouragement or urgency.
9. Rise-fall. Strong emotional involvement; depending on the face, the attitude might be delighted, challenging, or complacent.
Two more pitch parameters are pitch ranges and pitch levels. Three pitch ranges are generally distinguished: normal, wide, and narrow. Pitch levels may be high, medium, and low.
Loudness is used in a variety of ways. Gross differences of meaning (such as anger, menace, and excitement) can be conveyed by using an overall loudness level.
The tempo of speech is the third component of intonation. The term tempo 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 'pause' here we mean a complete stop of phonation. We may 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, and intonation groups. Emphatic pauses serve to make especially prominent certain parts of the utterance. 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.
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. It may be well to remind you here that the syntagm is a group of words which is semantically and syntactically complete. In phonetics actualized syntagms are called intonation groups (sense-groups, tone-groups). Each intonation group may consist of one or more potential syntagms, e.g. the sentence / think he is coming soon has two potential syntagms: / think and he is coming soon. In oral speech it is normally actualized as one intonation group.
The intonation group is a stretch of speech which may have the length of the whole phrase. But the phrase often contains more than one intonation group. The number of intonation groups depends on the length of the phrase and the degree of semantic importance or emphasis given to various parts of it:
This bed was not' slept, in— ,This be was not' slept in
An additional terminal tone on this bed expresses an emphasis on this bed incontrast to other beds.
Not all stressed syllables are of equal importance. One of the syllables has the greater prominence than the others and forms the nucleus, or focal point 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 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:
No, Mary — Well, Mary.
The nucleus and the tail form what is called terminal tone. The two other sections of the intonation pattern are the head and the pre-head which form the pre-nuclear part of the intonation pattern and, like the tail, they may be looked upon as optional elements:
àLake District is one of the loveliest 'parts of, Britain.
The pre-nuclear part can take a variety of pitch patterns. Variation within the prе-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 prе-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.
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 Low Fall, High Fall, Low Rise, High Rise, Fall-Rise in the phrase Not at all.
—>Not at all (reserved, calm).
—>Not at all) (surprised, concerned).
—>Not at all (encouraging, friendly).
—> Not at all (questioning).
—> Not at all (intensely encouraging, protesting).
The more the height of the pitch contrasts within the intonation pattern the more emphatic the intonation group sounds, cf.:
He's won. Fan tastic.
The changes of pitch, loudness and tempo are not haphazard variations. The rules of change are highly organized. No matter how variable the individual variations of these prosodic components are they tend to become formalized or standardized, so that all speakers of the language use them in similar ways under similar circumstances. These abstracted characteristics of intonation structures may be called intonation patterns which form the prosodic system of English.
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 mold into which all sentences may be poured so that they achieve utterance. Such intonation patterns represent the intonational minimum of speech. The number of possible combinations is more than a hundred but not all of them ate equally important. Some of them do not differ much in meaning, others are very rarely used. That is why in teaching it is necessary to deal only with a very limited number of intonation patterns, which are the result of a careful choice.
3. The phonological aspect of intonation.
Phonology has a special branch, intonology, whose domain is the larger units of connected speech: intonation groups, phrases and even phonetic passages or blocks of discourse.
The descriptions of intonation show that phonological facts of intonation system are much more open to question than in the field of segmental phonology. Descriptions differ according to the kind of meaning they regard intonation is carrying and also according to the significance they attach to different parts of the tone-unit. J.D. O'Connor and G.F. Arnold assert that a major function of intonation is to express the speaker's attitude to the situation he/she is placed in, and they attach these meanings not to pre-head, head and nucleus separately, but to each of ten 'tone-unit types' *as they combine with each of four sentence types, statement, question, command and exclamation.
M. Halliday supposes that English intonation contrasts are grammatical. He argues first that there is a neutral or unmarked tone choice and then explains all other choices as meaningful by contrast. Thus if one takes the statement I don't know the suggested intonational meanings are: Low Fall - neutral. Low Rise - non-committal, High Rise - contradictory, Fall-Rise - with reservation, Rise-Fall - with commitment. Unlike J.D. O'Connor and G.F. Arnold, M. Halliday attributes separate significance to the prе-nuclear choices, again taking one choice as neutral and the other(s) as meaningful by contrast.
D. Crystal presents an approach based on the view "that any explanation of intonational meaning cannot be arrived at by seeing the issues solely in either grammatical or attitudinal terms". He ignores the significance of pre-head and head choices and deals only with terminal tones.
It is still impossible to classify, in any practical analysis of intonation, all the fine shades of feeling and attitude which can be conveyed by slight changes in pitch, by lengthening or shortening tones, by increasing or decreasing the loudness of the voice, by changing its quality, and in various other ways. On the other hand it is quite possible to make a broad classification of intonation patterns which are so different in their nature that they materially: change the meaning of the utterance and to make different pitches and degrees of loudness in each of them. Such an analysis resembles the phonetic analysis of sounds of a language whereby phoneticians establish the number of significant sounds it uses.
The distinctive function of intonation is realized in the opposition of the same word sequences which differ in certain parameters of the intonation pattern. Intonation patterns make their distinctive contribution at intonation group, phrase and text levels. Thus in the phrases:
If Mary, comes let me à know at once (a few people are expected to come but it is Mary who interests the speaker)
If —>Mary comes let me à know at once (no one else but Mary is expected to come)
the intonation patterns of the first intonation groups are opposed. In the opposition I enjoyed it - I enjoyed it the pitch pattern operates over the whole phrase adding in the second phrase the notion that the speaker has reservations (implying a continuation something like 'but it could have been a lot better').
Any section of the intonation pattern, any of its three constituents can perform the distinctive function thus being phonological units. These units form a complex system of intonemes, tonemes, accentemes, chronemes, etc. These phonological units like phonemes consist of a number of variants. The terminal tonemes, for instance, consist of a number of allotones, which are mutually non-distinctive. The principal allotone is realized in the nucleus alone. The subsidiary allotones are realized not only in the nucleus, but also in the pre-head and in the tail, if there are any, cf.:
No. No, Tom. Oh, no, Mary.
The most powerful phonological unit is the terminal tone. The opposition of terminal tones distinguishes different types of sentence. The same sequence of words may be interpreted as a different syntactical type, i.e. a statement or a question, a question or an exclamation being pronounced with different terminal tones, e.g.:
Tom saw it (statement) - Tom saw it? (general question)
Didn't you enjoy it? (general question) - Didn't you enjoy it? (exclamation)
Will you be quiet? (request) - Will you be quiet? (command).
The number of terminal tones indicates the number of intonation groups. Sometimes the number of intonation groups may be important for meaning. For example, the sentence My sister, who lives in the South, has just arrived may mean two different things. In oral speech it is marked by using two or three intonation groups. If the meaning is: 'my only sister who happens to live in the South', then the division would be into three intonation groups: My sister, who lives in the South, has just arrived. On the other hand, if the meaning is 'that one of my two sisters, who lives in the South', the division is into two intonation groups.
Together with the increase of loudness terminal tones serve to single out the semantic centre of the utterance. By semantic centre we mean the information centre which may simultaneously concentrate the expression of attitudes and feelings. The words in an utterance do not necessarily all contribute an equal amount of information, some are more important to the meaning than others. This largely depends on the context or situation in which the intonation group or a phrase is said. Some words are predisposed by their function in the language to be stressed. In English lexical (content) words are generally accented while grammatical (form) words are more likely to be unaccented although words belonging to both of these groups may be unaccented or accented if the meaning requires it.
Let us consider the sentence It was an unusually rainy day. As the beginning of, say, a story told on the radio the last three words would be particularly important, they form the semantic centre with the nucleus on the word day. The first three words play a minor part. The listener would get a pretty clear picture of the story's setting if the first three words were not heard and the last three were heard clearly. If the last three words which form the semantic centre were lost there would be virtually no information gained at all.
The same sentences may be said in response to the question What sort of day was it? In this case the word day in the reply would lose some of its force because the questioner already possesses the information that it might otherwise have given him. In this situation there are only two important words - unusually rainy - and they would be sufficient as a complete answer to the question. The nucleus will be on the word rainy. Going further still, in reply to the question Did it rain yesterday? the single word unusually would bear the major part of the information, would be, in this sense, more important than all the others and consequently would be the nucleus of the intonation pattern.
Grammatical words may be also important to the meaning if the context makes them so. The word was, for instance, has had little value in the previous examples, but if the sentences were said as a contradiction in the reply to It wasn 't a rainy day yesterday, was it?, then was would be the most important word of all and indeed, the reply might simply be It was, omitting the following words as no longer worth saying. In this phrase the word was is the nucleus of the semantic centre.
These variations of the accentuation achieved by shifting the position of the terminal tone serve a striking example of how the opposition of the distribution of terminal tones is fulfilling the distinctive function.
If the phrase I don't want you to read anything has the low-falling terminal tone on the word anything, it means that for this or other reason the person should avoid reading. If the same word sequence is pronounced with the falling-rising tone on the same word, the phrase means that the person must have a careful choice in reading.
It should be pointed out here that the most important role of the opposition of terminal tones is that of differentiating the attitudes and emotions expressed by the speaker. The speaker must be particularly careful about the attitudes and emotions he expresses since the hearer is frequently more interested in the speaker's attitude or feeling than in his words - that is whether he speaks nicely or nastily. For instance, the special question Why? may be pronounced with the low falling tone sounding rather detached, sometimes even hostile. When pronounced with the low-rising tone it is sympathetic, friendly, interested.
All the other sections of the intonation pattern differentiate only attitudinal or emotional meaning, e.g.: being pronounced with the high рге-head, Hello sounds more friendly than when pronounced with the low pre-head, cf.:
à He llo! - O He llo!
More commonly, however, different kinds of pre-heads, heads, the same as pitch ranges and levels fulfil their distinctive function not alone but in the combination with other prosodic constituents.
We have been concerned with the relationship between intonation, grammatical patterns and lexical composition. Usually the speaker's intonation is in balance with the words and structures he chooses. If he says something nice, his intonation usually reflects the same characteristic. All types of questions, for instance, express a certain amount of interest which is generally expressed in their grammatical structure and a special interrogative intonation. However, there are cases when intonation is in contradiction with the syntactic structure and the lexical content of the utterance neutralizing and compensating them, e.g.: a statement may sound questioning, interested. In this case intonation neutralizes its grammatical structure. It compensates the grammatical means of expressing this kind of meaning: Do you know what I'm here for? — No (questioning)
There are cases when intonation neutralizes or compensates the lexical content of the utterance as it happens, for instance, in the command Phone him at once, please, when the meaning of the word please is neutralized by intonation.
Lack of balance between intonation and word content, or intonation and the grammatical structure of the utterance may serve special speech effects. A highly forceful or exciting statement said with a very matter-of-fact intonation may, by its lack of balance, produce a type of irony; if one says something very complimentary, but with an intonation of contempt, the result is an insult.
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