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Prominence and intonation


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Online Phonology Clinic III
Course Designer and Tutor: Prof. Diana Martínez Salatín

Published in: Education
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Prominence and intonation

  1. 1. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse
  2. 2. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Just as individual utterances can be divided into words and these words into syllables, so too larger stream of speech can be broken down into smaller units. </li></ul><ul><li>The term thought group refers to a discrete stretch of speech that forms a semantically and grammatically coherent segment of discourse. </li></ul><ul><li>So when we think about where a speaker can logically pause in the stream of speech, we can separate an utterance into thought groups. </li></ul><ul><li>Although written discourse provides some markers for these division or pauses (i.e., commas, semicolons, full stops, dashes), in spoken discourse a speaker may pause at points where such punctuation does not always occur in a written transcription of the utterance. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Similarly, the term intonation unit describes the same segment of speech but refers also to the fact that this unit of speech has its own intonation contour or pitch pattern and typically contains one prominent element. </li></ul><ul><li>A single utterance or sentence may include several intonation units, each with its own prominent element and contour. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>To summarise, each typical intonation unit (or thought group): </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>is set off by pauses before and after </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>contains one prominent element </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>has an intonation contour of its own </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>has a grammatically coherent internal structure </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>There is no foolproof way to divide an utterance into intonation units. In rapid speech, intonation units may be fairly long; in slower speech, they may be shorter, and breaks between units will therefore be more frequent. </li></ul><ul><li>Where the utterance divisions fall will also depend on the individual speaker, with some speakers producing fewer breaks than others. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Finally, such divisions are dependent on the performance context. Public speakers, for example, tend to pause frequently to make their message clearer or more emphatic, as in a political statement. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: John F. Kennedy – Inaugural Speech Address </li></ul><ul><li>// we dare not forget today // that we // are the heirs // of that first // revolution // let the word go forth // from this time and place // to friend // and foe alike // that the torch has been passed // to a new generation of Americans // born // in this century // tempered by war // disciplined by a hard // and bitter peace // proud // of our ancient heritage // and unwilling // to witness // or permit // the slow undoing // of those human rights // to which this nation // has always been committed // and to which we are committed today // at home // and around the world // let // every nation know // whether it wishes us // well or ill // that we shall pay // any price // bear any burden // meet any hardship // support any friend // oppose any foe // to assure the survival // and the success of liberty // </li></ul>
  7. 7. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>By contrast, if in another context the speaker is communicating urgency, the intonation units may be longer and the speech may contain fewer breaks. </li></ul><ul><li>What we should take into account as well is that too many pauses (and therefore intonation units) can slow speech down and create too many prominent elements, causing the listener difficulty in processing and comprehending the overall message. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>The discourse context generally influences which stressed word in a given utterance </li></ul><ul><li>receives prominence – that is, which word the speaker wishes to highlight. </li></ul><ul><li>There are three circumstances governing the placement of prominence. </li></ul><ul><li>When the speaker places prominence on new information : within an intonation unit, words expressing old or given information (i.e., semantically predictable information) are unstressed and spoken with lower pitch, whereas words expressing new information are spoken with strong stress and higher pitch. In unmarked utterances, it is the stressed syllable in the last content word that tends to exhibit prominence. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>X: I’ve lost an umBRELla. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Y: A LAdy’s umbrella? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>X: Yes. A lady’s umbrella with STARS on it. GREEN stars. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>A second, related circumstance governing the placement of prominence is </li></ul><ul><li>emphatic stress - when the speaker wishes to place special emphasis on a particular </li></ul><ul><li>element. In fact, the element receiving emphatic stress usually communicates new </li></ul><ul><li>information within the sentence; however it is differentiated from normal </li></ul><ul><li>prominence by the greater degree of emphasis placed on it by the speaker (usually </li></ul><ul><li>signaled by pitch level). </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Im NEVer eating clams again.’ </li></ul><ul><li>In this phrase, for example, the speaker might place emphatic stress on never to signal a particularly bad </li></ul><ul><li>reaction she once had when eating clams. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>The third circumstance governing the placement of prominence is contrastive </li></ul><ul><li>stress . In this case, two parallel elements –either explicitly or by implication can </li></ul><ul><li>receive prominence within a given utterance. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Is this a LOW or a HIGH impact aerobics class?’ </li></ul><ul><li>In this case, the speaker places prominence on both low and high to signal this important contrast in the </li></ul><ul><li>sentence. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>One way of highlighting information is </li></ul><ul><li>through prominence ; another is intonation . </li></ul>
  12. 12. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>To understand intonation, it is first necessary to define pitch, the relative highness or lowness </li></ul><ul><li>of the voice. It is important to note that the phonetic notion of pitch is relative, referring to the </li></ul><ul><li>differentiated pitch levels of a given speaker - not to the lower versus higher pitches of men's </li></ul><ul><li>and women's voices or the differing pitch variations of different speakers. </li></ul><ul><li>In fact, pitch in its phonetic meaning corresponds quite closely to the definition of pitch in </li></ul><ul><li>music. For example, ascending do, re, and mi represent progressively higher tones, or musical </li></ul><ul><li>pitch. We distinguish four levels of phonetic pitch in English: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>4 = extra high </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>3 = high </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>2 = middle </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1 = low </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Normal conversation moves between middle and high pitch, with low pitch typically signaling </li></ul><ul><li>the end of an utterance. The extra high level is generally used to express a strong emotion such </li></ul><ul><li>as surprise, great enthusiasm, or disbelief, and is the pitch level often used in contrastive or </li></ul><ul><li>emphatic stress. English makes use of pitch variation over the length of an entire utterance </li></ul><ul><li>rather than within one word. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Many find it difficult to judge whether pitch is rising or falling; the following simple </li></ul><ul><li>analogy may help. The engine of a motor car when ‘revving up’ to start produces a </li></ul><ul><li>series of rising pitches. When the car is cruising on the open road, the engine pitch </li></ul><ul><li>is more or less level. On coming to a halt, the engine stops with a rapid fall in pitch. </li></ul><ul><li>Listen to the different pitches </li></ul><ul><li>being said using a prolongued </li></ul><ul><li> vowel: </li></ul>
  14. 14. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>The movement of pitch within an intonation unit is referred </li></ul><ul><li>to as the intonation contour of that unit. Such contours </li></ul><ul><li>span the range of extra high pitch to low pitch. These levels </li></ul><ul><li>are highly dependent on discourse meaning and </li></ul><ul><li>prominence, with rises in intonation co-occurring with the </li></ul><ul><li>highlighted or more important words that receive </li></ul><ul><li>prominence within the sentence. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus pitch and prominence can be said to have a symbiotic relationship </li></ul><ul><li>with each other in English, and the interrelationship of </li></ul><ul><li>these phenomena determines the intonation contour of a </li></ul><ul><li>given utterance. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse Pitch variation has an important role to play in communication, adding meaning additional to that conveyed by the segmental phonemes. We can distinguish two significant ways in which pitch functions, namely (1) ( lexical ) tone and (2) intonation . In many languages, it is possible to use pitch differences to distinguish the dictionary meaning of words. This function of pitch is known as tone and such languages are termed tone languages . In tonal languages such as Chinese, Navajo, or Yoruba, differences in pitch can signify differences of meaning within a word. The classic example from Mandarin Chinese is the word ma, which can mean either &quot;mother,&quot; &quot;scold,“ &quot;hemp,&quot; or &quot;horse,&quot; depending on its pitch pattern (high level vs. high falling, etc.).
  16. 16. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Most European languages do not use pitch to indicate dictionary meaning. </li></ul><ul><li>If we examine the function of pitch within one-word utterances in English, </li></ul><ul><li>we find that it does not change the fundamental meaning of the word </li></ul><ul><li>itself. Rather, it reflects the discourse context within which a word occurs. </li></ul><ul><li>For example, the one-word utterance now , produced with a rising pitch </li></ul><ul><li>contour from middle to high, could signify a question: “Do you want me </li></ul><ul><li>to do it now?”. Produced with a falling pitch contour from high to low, </li></ul><ul><li>however, this same word could signify a command: “Do it now!” </li></ul>
  17. 17. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Most European languages do not use pitch to indicate dictionary meaning. For instance, </li></ul><ul><li>you can say the English word yes on a number of different pitch patterns: </li></ul><ul><li>Yet it continues to mean yes and can't be made to mean anything else. In English (and the </li></ul><ul><li>vast majority of European languages), pitch variation is confined to intonation . </li></ul><ul><li>Intonation tunes operate over an extent greater than a single word, usually over complete </li></ul><ul><li>clauses or sentences. Intonation is crucial to human communication, adding types of </li></ul><ul><li>meaning additional to what is supplied by the words themselves. Think how often you hear </li></ul><ul><li>people come out with statements like: ‘It wasn't so much what he said - it was more the way </li></ul><ul><li>he said it.’ </li></ul>
  18. 18. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Descriptive categories & transcription conventions </li></ul><ul><li>The basic building block of speech is the tone unit . The beginnings and ends of tone units are marked by the </li></ul><ul><li>symbol // : </li></ul><ul><li>// we dare not forget today // that we // are the heirs // of that first // revolution // </li></ul><ul><li>Each tone unit of ordinary speech has either one or two prominent syllables . Prominent syllables are </li></ul><ul><li>indicated by the use of upper-case letters: </li></ul><ul><li>let the WORD go FORTH // from this TIME and PLACE // to FRIEND // and foe aLIKE // that the TORCH has been </li></ul><ul><li>PASSED // to a NEW geneRAtion of AMEricans </li></ul><ul><li>The last prominent syllable in each tone is also a tonic syllable . The tonic syllable is the place at which a </li></ul><ul><li>significant pitch movement or tone begins. There are five tones : the falling, the rising, rise fall, fall-rise and </li></ul><ul><li>level. The tonic syllable is underlined in transcripts and the tone is indicated by means of a small arrow </li></ul><ul><li>placed at the beginning of the tone unit: </li></ul><ul><li> BORN //  in THIS CEN tury //  TEMpered by WAR //  DISciplined by a HARD //  and BItter PEACE //o </li></ul><ul><li>PROUD //  of our ANcient HER itage //o AND un WIll ing //  to WIT ness //  or per MIT //  the SLOW un DO ing </li></ul><ul><li>//  of THOSE human rights // o to which this NA tion //  has AL ways been committed //  and to which we ARE </li></ul><ul><li>committed today //  at HOME //  and Around the WORLD // </li></ul>
  19. 19. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Tones </li></ul><ul><li>Falls: </li></ul><ul><li>Falls have been found to be by far the commonest type of nuclear tone. Research has shown that falling </li></ul><ul><li>Patterns account for roughly 70 per cent of all types used in conversation. Any syllables after the nucleus </li></ul><ul><li>(sometimes called the tail) follow the pitch pattern established by it. In the case of falls, these syllables are </li></ul><ul><li>all on a low pitch. </li></ul>
  20. 20. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Rises: </li></ul><ul><li>The most frequent rise has a pitch movement from low to mid. If there are syllables following the nucleus, </li></ul><ul><li>the rise in pitch will be spread over all of them, i.e. following the pitch pattern established by it. The less </li></ul><ul><li>common high rise begins mid and rises to high. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Fall-rise: </li></ul><ul><li>The fall-rise nucleus moves from high to low to mid. Syllables after the nucleus continue the rise. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Rise-fall: </li></ul><ul><li>The rise-fall involves a pitch movement from mid to high to low. Syllables after the nucleus continue low. </li></ul><ul><li>It is the least common of the nuclear tones mentioned here and indeed is absent from some varieties of </li></ul><ul><li>English (e.g. certain of the accents of northern England). </li></ul>
  23. 23. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>If pitch represents the individual tones of </li></ul><ul><li>speech, then intonation can </li></ul><ul><li>be thought of as the entire melodic line. </li></ul><ul><li>Intonation involves the rising </li></ul><ul><li>and falling of the voice to various pitch levels </li></ul><ul><li>during the articulation of </li></ul><ul><li>an utterance. </li></ul><ul><li>It performs several unique </li></ul><ul><li>functions . </li></ul>
  24. 24. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Functions of Intonation </li></ul><ul><li>Intonation has four important linguistic functions: </li></ul><ul><li>Focusing function , by which the speaker focuses on the most significant information by means of </li></ul><ul><li>the location of the nucleus. As stated above, the nucleus is typically at the end of the intonation group. </li></ul><ul><li>Shift to an earlier syllable is often used to highlight some information elsewhere in the utterance. This can </li></ul><ul><li>easily be demonstrated (nucleus shown underlined in bold). </li></ul><ul><li>Nucleus location functions as a focusing device, not only in English but also in many other languages, e.g. </li></ul><ul><li>German, Spanish, Italian and many more. However, some languages make relatively little use of this </li></ul><ul><li>feature; French regularly has prominence on the last syllable of the intonation group, and consequently </li></ul><ul><li>greater use is made of grammar and vocabulary as a means of focusing. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>(2) Attitudinal function is what allows speakers constantly to superimpose an attitude on top of the bare </li></ul><ul><li>semantic content of what is being said. This is one of the most important functions of intonation and why </li></ul><ul><li>any written text must be deficient in at least one respect to the spoken word. When reading out loud, the </li></ul><ul><li>reader automatically superimposes a series of attitudes on the author's words (not always necessarily those </li></ul><ul><li>intended by the original writer). This is one of the most important factors in allowing different </li></ul><ul><li>interpretations of prose, drama and poetry. </li></ul><ul><li>We can only broadly connect attitudes to the nuclear tones since so much depends on context and on the </li></ul><ul><li>basic semantic content of the words in the intonation group. Nevertheless, two tones - fall-rise and rise-fall </li></ul><ul><li>seem noticeably attitudinally marked, i.e. these tones are inherently laden with certain implications: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Fall-rise : doubt, correction, reservation, appealing to the listener to reconsider. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Rise-fall : impressed, arrogant, confident, self-satisfied, mocking, putting down. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Two tones - high fall and low rise - can be regarded as neutral. Two tones - low fall and high rise - have a </li></ul><ul><li>strengthening function. These tones tend to add to, emphasise or exaggerate a speaker's basic attitude. In </li></ul><ul><li>particular, low falls tend to be associated with boredom, resignation and even surliness. High rise tends to </li></ul><ul><li>be associated with excitement and curiosity. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>(3) Grammatical function , which permits speakers to distinguish certain syntactic relationships, e.g. phrase </li></ul><ul><li>and clause boundaries, question versus statement. One occasional example of the grammatical function of </li></ul><ul><li>intonation in English is where a grammatical statement is converted to a question. Compare: </li></ul><ul><li>You're °going to 'Canterbury. </li></ul><ul><li>You're °going to ,Canterbury? </li></ul><ul><li>What might also be considered a further grammatical function of intonation is illustrated by English tag </li></ul><ul><li>questions or tag-type responses. We shall examine this area in somewhat greater detail since it is </li></ul><ul><li>something peculiar to English and follows regular patterns. It is typical of all varieties of native English. </li></ul><ul><li>System of tags </li></ul><ul><li>Tag-questions are short yes-no-type questions attached to the main statement. They repeat the information through an </li></ul><ul><li>appropriate auxiliary verb plus a pronoun, e.g. </li></ul><ul><li>No other major language appears to possess corresponding structures. Their equivalents are stylised exclamations, mostly </li></ul><ul><li>said on a rising tune. These set phrases lack both the syntactic and intonational complexity of the English tags. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Balanced and unbalanced tags </li></ul><ul><li>The typical pattern for a tag-question is that if the main statement is positive, the tag is negative and vice versa. These </li></ul><ul><li>we term balanced tags. </li></ul><ul><li>A less common type is the unbalanced tag, i.e. either positive/positive: </li></ul><ul><li>or, more rarely, negative/negative (often preceded by 'so'): </li></ul><ul><li>In all tags, the nucleus invariably falls on the verb - never on the pronoun. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Intonation in balanced tag-questions </li></ul><ul><li>Unbalanced tags are typically (not invariably) uttered with rising patterns. Balanced tags are regularly said on one of two </li></ul><ul><li>main intonation patterns, giving two different meanings which can be viewed as an example of the grammatical function of </li></ul><ul><li>intonation. </li></ul><ul><li>If the tag rises, as in example below, the implication is that the speaker is not really certain of the statement (perhaps 60 per </li></ul><ul><li>cent). It is, in meaning terms, equivalent to a true question. </li></ul><ul><li>If the tag has a fall pattern, as in example below, this indicates a far greater confidence in what the speaker is saying (perhaps </li></ul><ul><li>90 per cent). Despite the conventional question mark, the falling tag is here not so much a true question as a request for </li></ul><ul><li>confirmation of the statement. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>Tag-type responses </li></ul><ul><li>A very frequent feature of native-speaker conversational English is the occurrence of brief responses of a similar structure to </li></ul><ul><li>the tags just discussed, but in this case a positive sentence requires a positive response and vice versa. These tag-type </li></ul><ul><li>responses are of special interest since, because they lack any real semantic content, they allow the significance of intonation </li></ul><ul><li>to be displayed most clearly. </li></ul><ul><li>Tag responses with falling nuclei indicate acceptance of what has been said. High falls give a far more sympathetic </li></ul><ul><li>acceptance than low falls, which may have undertones of hostility and lack of interest. Compare the responses above with </li></ul><ul><li>this one: </li></ul><ul><li>The broken tones have an inherent heavily laden attitudinal function. The fall-rise is employed to indicate doubt, correction </li></ul><ul><li>or polite disagreement: </li></ul>
  30. 30. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>(4) Discourse function , which covers such diverse matters as the organisation of conversation between two </li></ul><ul><li>or more speakers (e.g. signals for turn-taking), the indication of speaker/listener relationship (e.g. in </li></ul><ul><li>relation to power and authority) and the indication of new versus old information. In this context, we can </li></ul><ul><li>broadly allocate the nuclear tones to two categories on the basis of whether they are (terminally) falling or </li></ul><ul><li>rising: </li></ul><ul><li>Falling tones (i.e. high fall, low fall and rise-fall) suggest: (a) finality, (b) unloading of information. </li></ul><ul><li>Rising tones (i.e. high rise, low rise and fall-rise) indicate: (a) non-finality, (b) information is sought or </li></ul><ul><li>anticipated, rather than unloaded. </li></ul><ul><li>Consequently, we usually find that completed statements and commands involve falling tones, whereas </li></ul><ul><li>yes-no questions and introductory non-final clauses more typically have rising nuclei, e.g.: </li></ul><ul><li>However, these are broad categorisations and there are notable exceptions, often reflecting a </li></ul><ul><li>combination of discourse and attitudinal function. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Prominence and Intonation in Discourse <ul><li>To take one example, wh-questions (beginning with a wh-word like what, why, where and also how) may </li></ul><ul><li>be said with one of two patterns: either with a rising pattern, which makes them sound friendly, engaging </li></ul><ul><li>and leading on to more; or with a falling pattern (sounding more distant, business-like and as if there is a </li></ul><ul><li>conclusive answer to the question). Compare the same set of sentences, first with falling patterns: </li></ul><ul><li>This tends to sound distant and businesslike. It would not be inappropriate for a policeman interviewing a </li></ul><ul><li>suspect. And now the same sequence with rising patterns: </li></ul><ul><li>This sounds far more friendly, as opposed to interrogation, and could quite easily be a stage in making a </li></ul><ul><li>date! </li></ul>