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General characteristics of intonation.

No language that we know of is spoken on a monotone; in all languages there are variations of pitch, though not all languages use these pitch variations in the same way. When we talk about English intonation we mean the pitch patterns of spoken English, the speech tunes or melodies, the musical features of English. All that is written here in this book as indeed in any other book on intonation is based on three major premises:

1. Intonation is significant. Utterances which are different only in respect to intonation may, as a result, differ from each other in meaning. The same phrase may be said in a downright, or reserved, or questioning tone of voice, amongst others.

2. Intonation is systematic. We do not invent the words that we use in speaking, nor do we invent the sounds of which they are composed; we learn them, mainly in childhood, and spend the rest of our lives using the same words and the same sounds. Similarly we do not invent tunes as we go along; we use tunes which we originally learned as children, and we do not choose them or use them at random. There is a limited number of pitch patterns in any language, and we use them to produce definite meaningful effects. It is therefore possible to describe frequently recurring patterns of pitch and to give rules for their use.

3. Intonation is characteristic. The pitch patterns or tunes of English are not necessarily the same in form as those of other languages, nor do they necessarily produce the same effect as they would in other languages, though there may be resemblances here and there. This being so, the pitch patterns of any other language may, and very often do, sound wrong if they are applied to English, and give rise to difficulties in communication. In the first place, the use of a tune which is not normally used in English will give a foreign accent to the speech and may make understanding difficult; secondly, and more serious, the use of a tune which is used in English but in different circumstances will lead to misunderstandings and possible embarrassment. As an example of this latter type of danger, the phrase Thank you may be said with one tune which makes it sound genuinely grateful, and with a different tune which makes it sound rather casual. Now if the foreign learner unintentionally uses the casual form when an English listener feels entitled to the other one, then the listener may get a very bad impression, since he will probably assume that the casual effect given by the tune was the one that the speaker deliberately set out to give. This is very important English speakers are able to make a good deal of allowance for imperfect sound-making, but being for the most part unaware of the far-reaching effects of intonation in their own language, they are much less able to make the same allowance for mistakenly used tunes. The result is that they may hold the foreigner responsible for what his intonation seems to say as they would rightly hold an Englishman responsible in a similar case even though the tune does not faithfully reflect his intention.

Date: 2016-01-05; view: 3015

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