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The term intonationrefers to the way the voice goes up and down in pitch when we are speaking. It is a fundamental part of the way we express our own thoughts and it enables us to understand those of others. It is an aspect of language that we are very sensitive to, but mostly at an unconscious level. We perceive intonation, understand it and use it without having to examine the intricacies of everything we say or hear.

Intonation is a complex unity of variations in pitch, stress, tempoand timbre.

The pitch component of intonation, or melody, is changes in the pitch of voice (the pitch of voice either falls or rises) in connected speech.

Sentence stress, or accent, is the greater prominence of one or more words among other words in the same sentence.

Tempois the relative speed with which sentences and intonation-groups are pronounced in connected speech.

Speech timbre, or voice quality is a special colouring of voice which shows the speaker’s emotions, i. e. pleasure, displeasure, etc.

Intonation serves to form sentences and intonation-groups, to define their communicative type, to express the speaker’s thoughts, to convey the attitudinal meaning. One and the same grammatical structure and lexical composition of the sentence may express different meaning when pronounced with different intonation.

e. g. ˡCan you ΄tell me the ΄way to the ̗station?

  1. I’m afˡraid, I ̖can’t. (Слишком прямая констатация факта, которая может истолкована как выражение безразличия к дальнейшей судьбе собеседника.)
  2. I’m afˡraid, I ̀̀can’t. (Мне очень хотелось бы вам помочь, но я, к сожалению, не могу этого сделать.)

Long sentences, simple extended, compound and complex, are subdivided into intonation-groups. Intonation-group division depends on the meaning of the sentence, the grammatical structure of the utterance and the style of speech. Each intonation-group is characterized by a definite intonation pattern. The number of intonation groups in the same sentence may be different.

An intonation group (syntagma) is a word or a group of words characterized by a certain intonation pattern and is generally complete from the point of view of meaning.

e. g. ↘What’s your ̖name?|| - ̖Peter.||

̖Mary, | →read ΄text ̖three.||

Note: The vertical bar (|) represents a pause at the end of the intonation group within a sentence.

The intonation pattern consists of one or more syllables of various pitch levels and bearing a larger or smaller degree of prominence. Those intonation patterns that contain a number of syllables consist of the following parts: the pre-head, the head, the nucleus and the tail.

The pre-headincludes initial unstressed syllables preceding the first stressed syllable.

The head (or the scale)includes the stressed and unstressed syllables beginning with the first stressed syllable up to the last stressed syllable not including the nucleus.

The nucleus –the last stressed syllable.

The tail –the unstressed syllables following the nucleus.

e. g. It was a ↘very ˡsunny ̖day yesterday.

The pre-head It was a… The head …↘very ˡsunny… The nucleus … ̖day… The tail yesterday


The rises and falls that take place in the nucleus or start with it are called nuclear tones.

The nucleusis the most important part of the intonation pattern as it defines the communicative type of the sentence, determines the semantic value of the intonation-group, indicates the communicative centre of the intonation-group or of the whole sentence.

The communicative centre is associated with the most important word or words of the intonation-group or of the sentence.

The nuclear tone of the final intonation-group is determined by the communicative type of the whole sentence.

The communicative types of sentences are differentiated in speech according to the aim of the utterance from the point of view of communication, i. e. in order to show if the sentence expresses a statement of fact, a question, a command or an exclamation.

There are four communicative types of sentences:

1. Statements, e. g. I like reading.

2. Questions, e. g. Can you do it?

3. Imperative sentences or commands, e. g. Do it immediately.

4. Exclamations, e. g. What a wonderful day!

The falling nuclear tone shows that the non-final intonation-group is complete, important by itself and is not so closely connected with the following intonation-group.

A longer pause after an intonation-group pronounced with the falling tone makes the intonation-group even more significant.

e. g. I’ll →tell him ̖all ǀ when he ̖comes.

The rising nuclear tone shows that the non-final intonation-group is closely connected in meaning with the following intonation-group, is not important by itself and implies continuation.

e. g. →Generally ̗speaking, I pre→fer ̖tennis.

The intonation pattern is also modified by the speaker’s attitude towards his utterance:

e. g. ̖Why? – detached, even unsympathetic.

̗ Why? – wondering.

In English notional words (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) are generally stressed. Form-words and most pronouns (personal and possessive mainly) are generally unstressed. But any part of speech may be stressed if it is semantically important.

e. g. ↘What is he ˡgoing to ̖do? – do is the communicative centre.

→What is ̖he going to do? – he is the communicative centre.




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