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If the syllables are pronounced on a high level the head is called the High Level Head.

Components of an Intonation Pattern/Tone-unit


Unstressed or partially stressed syllables which precede the head are called the pre-head. In short intonation groups where there is no head and these syllables precede the nucleus they are called the pre-nucleus.

There are two types of pre-head or pre-nucleus.

a) If unstressed or partially stressed syllables are pronounced lower than the first stressed syllable of the head, the pre-head is called low.

E.g. There was something wrong with the trains.

In low pre-nucleus these syllables are lower than the start of the nuclear tone.

E.g. It was obvious.

The Low Pre-Head may occur before any head and the Low Pre-Nucleus is usually heard before all the nuclear tones.

b) If unstressed syllables or partially stressed syllables are pronounced higher or on the same level as the first stressed syllable of the head the pre-head is called high .In High Pre-Nucleus these syllables are higher than the start of the nuclear tone or they are pronounced on the same level.

E.g. ˉI don’t want to watch this movie.

ˉI want it.

The High Pre-Head usually occurs before descending and high or medium level heads. The High Pre-Nucleus can be heard before almost any nuclear tone.


The head is a phonetic unit that begins with the first fully stressed syllable (including it) and extends up to the nucleus. The first fully stressed syllable with which the head begins is often referred to as the onset.

The head plays an important role in conveying the speaker’s attitude and feelings towards the listener, the subject-matter and the situation, in other words, it is relevant for expressing the attitudinal meaning and emotional colouring of an utterance.

Head patterns can be classified in different ways. The main criterion of descriptions and classifications of the head is the general contour of pitch movement over the head. According to this criterion head patterns in English are classified into three major types: descending, ascending and level.

1. Descending Head – the first fully stressed syllable is said on a high pitch (it can also be mid-high or very high); each following fully stressed syllable (i.e. beginning with the second) always begins lower than the preceding stressed syllable. E.g.:

It is really worth seeing.


. ˉ _–_ ._||____


1.1.If the stressed syllables move down by steps and the unstressed syllables are pronounced on the same note as the preceding step the head is called Stepping Head. It is typical of emotionally neutral speech. E.g.:

I think you’d better in vite all your friends.


._¯־ֺ∙ –∙ _ _||____

1.2. Used within long intonation groups descending stepping heads may be broken by the so called ‘accidental (special) rise’ when one of the syllables is pronounced on a higher pitch level than the preceding one. This pattern is called the Broken DescendingStepping Head. It helps to avoid a monotonous effect a long intonation group may have. This also happens when one particular word in a phrase should be singled out.

E.g. I warned Kathy about it three or more times.

1.3. If the stressed syllables of the head move down by steps but the unstressed syllables fall down, continuing the descending direction, the head is called falling.

E.g. I couldn’t possibly do it.


_.¯ ∙_–.._ ._||___


1.4. If the stressed syllables of the head move down by steps but the unstressed syllables move up and are pronounced higher than the preceding stressed syllable, the head is called scandent. E.g.

What a wonderful sur prise!


ˉ־ ֺ _ֺֺֺ_ ||_____


1.5. If the voice falls down by slides (i.e. downward pitch movements) within stressed syllables, the head is called sliding. The unstressed syllables between the slides usually continue the fall. To symbolize the Sliding Head the mark is placed above each stressed syllable. E.g.

We haven’t been hearing from him for ages.

If the slides are of rather wide range we have the pattern with several high falls. E.g.

I’ve got some news for you too.


2. Ascending Head –the first fully stressed syllable is said on a low pitch; each following fully stressed syllable always begins higher than the preceding ones.

E.g. What in the world makes you think so?

If the voice moves up by steps and the unstressed syllables continue the rise the head is called rising. It is used in emotionally coloured speech to convey personal concern or involvement, disgruntled protest, unpleasant surprise, impatience.

The ascending heads are usually associated with the High (Medium) Fall or the High (Medium) Rise.

3. Level Heads.In level heads all the syllables are pronounced on more or less the same note of a pitch level. These intonation patterns can be of three types: high level, medium level and low level.

If the syllables are pronounced on a high level the head is called the High Level Head.

E.g. Pray don’t mention his name a gain.

This head usually occurs before the high-falling, high-rising and rising-falling nuclear tones.

The most frequently used type of the High Level Head is the High Head. In the High Head all the syllables are said on the same rather high pitch. There is only one fully stressed syllable, i.e. one peak of prominence. This is the stressed syllable of the first important word: the onset. The other semantic items in the prenuclear part are given a smaller degree of prominence indicated by a high partial stress.

E.g. He keeps making the same error.

The High Head is used in conversation, where it occurs more frequently than the Stepping Head.

3.2. Medium Level Headis usually used in non-final intonation groups which may also be pronounced with low rise or with low fall.

3.3.All the syllablesin the LowLevel Head are pronounced on the same, rather low level. Prominence on the relevant syllables in this type of head is achieved by a greater force of articulation and longer duration. The stressed syllables are indicated with a low stress-mark.

E.g. Two or three times a week.

The Low Head is used in combination with low nuclear tones which are often of a narrow variety. The most frequent nuclear tones after Low Head are the Low Narrow Fall and the Low Narrow Rise. Utterances with the Low Head often convey a cool, detached, phlegmatic, disinterested or disapproving attitude.


The last stressed syllable of the intonation pattern on which the pitch movement changes is called the nucleus. The nucleus is usually of the highest importance; it is on this syllable that the whole pitch pattern centres.

Different linguists single out different number and different types of nuclear tones. The commonly recognized nuclear tones are 1) the Low (Medium) Fall, 2) the Low (Medium) Rise, 3) the High Fall, 4) the High (Medium) Rise, 5) the Rise-Fall, 6) the Fall-Rise, 7) the Level Tone. Some scholars also distinguish the Rise-Fall-Rise.

The Tail:Post nuclear unstressed or partially stressed syllables are called the tail.


Theory Sheet 3:

Date: 2016-01-03; view: 2428

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