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All languages are musical.  

What's the music of English?

 

 

Intonation is the music of language. It is the way pitch rises and falls to give meaning to the spoken word.

What's intonation?

Intonation is the use of relative musical pitch to convey meaning in language.

Are there tonal languages?

Yes. Most languages in the world are tonal. The tone of a word rises or falls. The relative pitch conveys the meaning of the word; tonal languages use difference in pitch to distinguish between words that share the same phonemes. For example, in  Mandarin, a language used in parts of China, the word /ma/ has several meanings. With a rising intonation, it means "mother."  With a falling intonation, it means "horse."    

Is English a tonal language?

No. In  English, the pitch does not distinguish the meaning of one word from another.  

Then what is English intonation?

English intonation conveys grammatical meaning. 

In multisyllabic words, syllabic stress can distinguish a noun from a verb, e.g., reCORD vs. REcord. Providing the correct syllabic stress can mean the difference between comprehension and incomprehension: e.g., suPER (incorrect stress) vs. SUper (correct stress).

English intonation marks the differences between one phrase and another. It also indicates the difference between a declarative and interrogative utterance. The intonation of a declarative statement falls. The intonation of a yes-no question rises at the end of the statement.     

 

Can the rules of intonation change or evolve?

 

 

Yes. For example, in English there has been a relatively recent change in the tonal discrimination between a question and a sentence. Many English speakers now end  declarative sentences with a rising intonation. 

So I went to the mall...and I bought some shoes... and...

 

 

Follow the treble clef notes for rising and falling intonation. In English, a typical sentence rises and falls, or falls and rises, once or twice, much as these musical phrases. Differences in pitch give listeners clues about grammar.