The components of the intonation

Speech melody or the pitch.

The sentence possesses definite phonetic features: variations of pitch or speech melody, pauses, sentence stress, rhythm, tempo and timbre. Each feature performs a definite task and all of them work simultaneously. It is generally acknowledged that the pitch of the voice or speech melody, sentence stress and rhythm are the three main components of intonation, whilst pauses, tempo and timbre play a subordinate role in speech.

The pitch of the voice does not stay on the same level while the sentence is pronounced. It falls and rises within the interval between its lower and upper limits. Three pitch levels are generally distinguished: high, medium and low.

high medium low

The pitch of the voice rises and falls on the vowels and voiced consonants. These falls and rises form definite patterns typical of English and are called speech melody.

Pitch Range is the interval between two pitch levels. It may be normal, wide and narrow.


E.g. I didn’t know you’ve been to London.

The use of this or that pitch (and range) shows the degree of its semantic importance. As a rule the low pitch level expresses little semantic weight, on the contrary the high pitch level is a sign of importance, stronger degree of feeling.



Rhythm is a regular recurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables at definite intervals.

The characteristic features of English speech rhythm may be summed up as follows:

1. The regularity of the recurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables results in the pronunciation of each rhythmic group in a sense-group in the same period of time irrespective to the number of unstressed syllables in it. Which in its turn influences the length of sounds, especially vowels.

2. The alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables results in the influence of rhythm upon word-stress and sentence-stress.

There are as many rhythmical groups in a sense-group as there are stressed syllables. Rhythmic groups can be of two types:

· enclitics – a rhythmic group in which an unstressed syllable clings to the preceding stressed syllable.

· proclitics – a rhythmic group in which an unstressed syllable clings to the following stressed syllable.

To acquire a good English speech rhythm one should arrange sentences:

1) into intonation groups;

2) into rhythmic groups;

3) link the words beginning with a vowel to preceding words;

4) weaken unstressed words and syllables;

5) make the stressed syllables occur regularly within an intonation group.


All phones have certain inherit suprasegmentalor prosodic propertiesthat form part of their makeup no matter what their place or manner of articulation. These properties are pitch, loudnessand length.
All sounds give us a subjective impression of being relatively higher or lower in pitch. Pitch is auditory property that enables us to place it on a scale that ranges from low to high. Pitch is especially noticeable in sonorous sounds like vowels, glides, liquids, and nasals. Even stop and fricative consonants convey different pitches. This is particularly noticeable among fricatives, as you hear by extending the pronunciation of [s] and then of [ſ]; the [s] is clearly higher pitched. All sounds have some degree of intrinsic loudness as well or they can not be heard. Moreover, all sounds occupy a certain stretch of time – they give the subjective impression of length.
A language is said to be a tone language when differences in word meaning are signaled by differences in pitch and when tone of a word can have a grammatical function. Pitch on forms in tone language functions very differently from the movement of pitch in a non-tone language. When a speaker of English says a car? with a rising pitch, the word car does not mean anything different from the same form pronounced on a different pitch level or with a different pitch contour. In contrast, when a speaker of a tone language such as Mandarin pronounces the form ma with a high falling pitch, it means “scold”, but when the same form pronounced with a mid rising pitch, the meaning is “hemp”, with fall rise pitch level it is “horse”, and it is “mother” when pronounced with a high tone. There is no parallel to anything like this in non-tone languages such as English and French. In Bini lang. spoken in Nigeria tone can signal differences in the tense of a verb, f.e. the word ima with LL (low - low) tone means present indefinite of “I show”; the same word with HL (high-low) tone is continuous “I am showing”; with LH tone past “I showed”.
Pitch movement in spoken utterance that is not related to differences in word meaning is called intonation.The falling pitch we hear at the end of a statement in English such as Fred parked the car signals that the utterance is complete. For this reason, falling pitch at the end of an utterance is called terminal (intonation) contour.Conversely, a rising or level intonation, called nonterminal (intonation) contour,often signals incompleteness; we can find them in lists and telephone numbers, e.g. Sally, Fred, Hellen, and Joe; two eight four two five one three. In questions, final rising intonations also signal a kind of incompleteness in that they indicate that a conversational exchange is not finished: did you have nice time?
In many languages, there are both vowels and consonants whose articulation takes longer relative to that of other vowels and consonants. This phenomenon, known as lengthis indicated in phonetic transcription by colon [:].
In any utterance, some vowels are perceived as more prominent than others. In a word such as telegraphic [t ε l ə g r æf i k] the two vowel nuclei that are more prominent than the others are [ε æ]. Syllabic segments perceived as relatively prominent are stressed. Stressis a cover term for the combined effects of pitch, loudness, and length – the result of which is perceived prominence. In each language, the effect of these prosodic features varies. In general, English stressed vowels are higher in pitch, longer and louder than unstressed ones. In phonetic transcriptions stress is marked with diacritics; North Americans use acute accent [' ] and grave accent [` ] to mark primary and secondary stresses.
     Syllables – minimal pronounceable units into which sounds show a tendency to group themselves. The syllable or syllables of the word are said to be stressed or accented. The correlation (взаимосвязь) of varying prominences (выделение) of syllables in a word is understood as the accentual structure of the word or its stress pattern.

The Intonation Group

An intonation group may be a whole sentence or a part of it. In either case it may consist of a single word or a number of words. An intonation group has the following characteristics: 1. It has at least one accented (stressed) word carrying a marked change in pitch (a rise, a fall…). 2. It is pronounced at a certain rate and without any pause within it.

The pitch-and-stress pattern or the intonation pattern of the intonation group consists of the following elements:

1. the pre-head – unstressed or partially stressed syllables which precede the first full stressed syllable;

2. the head (scale, body) – the intonation pattern extending from the first stressed syllable up to (but not including) the nuclear syllable;

3. the nucleus – the syllable bearing the nuclear (terminal) tone;

4. the tail – unstressed or partially stressed syllables following the nucleus.

He told me he would think of it.




pre-head head nucleus tail


There are different types of pre-heads, heads and tails.

Types of heads.

Head patterns are classified into three groups: descending, ascending and level according to the way it begins from the point of view of pitch movement.

Descending heads move down from a medium or a high pitch level to the low one. The first stressed syllable is the highest.

In the stepping head the stressed syllables gradually descend in pitch levels, unstressed or partially stressed syllables are pronounced on the same level as the preceding stressed ones. This head conveys the impression of the balanced, active, “normal” mood of the speaker.

I don’t want to go to the cinema.



The unstressed syllables may gradually descend in pitch too. In this case the head is called a falling head.



A fall in pitch may not be gradual but rather jumpy which is achieved by a considerable lowering of the pitch inside the stressed syllables or by pronouncing unstressed syllables at a much lower level than the preceding stressed ones. Such a head is called the sliding head. It usually reflects an excited state of mind and, sometimes, a highly emotional attitude to the situation.

I don’t want to go to the cinema.



Ascending heads are the opposite of the descending heads: their stressed syllables move up by steps with the intervening unstressed ones continuing the rise and in this case it is a rising head.

I don’t want to go to the cinema.



If the voice moves up jumpy the head is called climbing. Unstressed syllables glide up too.




In level heads all the syllables are pronounced on the same level (or gradually ascends towards the nucleus) either high or medium or low. So there are three level heads correspondingly. It is shown by the tone mark before the first stressed syllable. [   ]

Low head conveys an impression ranging from cool and indifferent to sulky and hostile.


Types of pre-head

There are two types of pre-head: the low pre-head and the high pre-head. The low pre-head is pronounced at a low pitch and may occur in all unemphatic and many emphatic utterances. Its main semantic function is to mark the comparative unimportance of initial unstressed syllables.

The high pre-head is pronounced at a high pitch level. It has a clearly emphatic function. Before a rising tone it usually gives a bright, lively, encouraging character to the utterance. The high pre-head is marked by the tone-stress mark ( ) placed before the first syllable above the line of print.


Types of tails

There are two types of tails: the low tail and the rising tail. The low tail goes after the falling tone and is pronounced at a low pitch.

Show me.




The rising tail occurs after the rising tone and gradually rises in pitch producing the very effect of the rising tone whilst the word carrying the syntagmatic stress is pronounced on the lowest level in the sense-group.





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