Main prosodic peculiarities of the conversational phonostyle (intonation of British English dialect, monologues and dialogues)


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In such a case the delimitation of the sense-group from the following sense-group is achieved by a sudden ldquo;jumprdquo; from the end-pitch of the first nuclear tone to that of the head or the nuclear tone of the next sense-group e. In longer utterances the melodic contour becomes more complex because of the words preceding and following the nucleus and forming the head pre-head and tail of the contour. Stressed syllables preceding the nucleus together with the intervening unstressed syllables form the head of...



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Main prosodic peculiarities of the conversational phonostyle (intonation of British English dialect, monologues and dialogues)



Intonation. Its main functions

The most essential speech unit, complete and independent enough to function as a unit of communication, is the sentence. It can perform this function not only because it consists of words that are made up of definite sounds, have a definite meaning, and follow each other in a definite order according to the rules of the language, but also because it possesses definite phonetic features, without which the sentence cannot exist. These features are closely connected with the meaning of the utterance as a whole and carry important information that the words of the utterance do not convey. They are superimposed upon the sounds making up the sentence in the process of speech and are inseparable from it.

These features are called prosodic, or supra-segmental and include speech melody, sentence-stress, tempo, rhythm, pauses. So intonation is a complex of the prosodic features. Of all these prosodic phenomena the most important are speech melody and sentence-stress.

The main functions of intonation are:

  1.  Sentence-forming;
  2.  Sentence-delimiting;
  3.  Distinctive;
  4.  Attitudinal.

The first function of intonation called sentence-forming is an intonation, along with words and grammatical structure, is an indispensable feature of the sentence. A chain of words correctly used according to grammatical rules does not necessarily make an unambiguous utterance with a clear communicative aim, if pronounced without differentiations in pitch and stress. For instance, “He’s ‘passed ‘his e’xam” may be taken for a statement, or a question, or an exclamation, while with a definite intonation contour superimposed on this chain of words, the communicative aim of the utterance is clearly revealed.


He’s  ‘passed his e,xam. – A statement of fact.

He’s  ‘passed his e’xam?- A question.

He’s  ‘passed his e,xam? – A question + surpise.

He’s  ‘passed his exam! – An exclamation.

He’s /passed his e_xam. – A statement + implication.

(The implication may be:  So he must know something. He’s probably not so lazy after all. Now he may take a rest, etc.)

Concerning the sentence-delimiting function the end of a sentence is always recognized by a pause of varying length combined with a moving (or nuclear) tone on the most important word of the sentence; the end of a non-final sense-group is usually signalled by a shorter pause in combination with a nuclear tone on the semantic centre of the sense-group.

E.g. Like ‘most ‘old ,people, | he was ‘fond of ‘talking about ‘old ,days.

A non-final sense-group may also be delimited by the nuclear tone alone without any pause after it. In such a case the delimitation of the sense-group from the following sense-group is achieved by a sudden “jump” from the end-pitch of the first nuclear tone to that of the head or the nuclear tone of the next sense-group, e.g.  

There’sa po’liceman over there, |go and |ask ‘him.

The distinctive function of intonation is apparent from the fact that communicatively different types of sentences are distinguished by intonation alone.


It’s |no |use |sending for the ,doctor. – A categoric statement (low fall in the nucleus).

It’s |no |use |sending for the ,doctor. – A non-categoric statement (low rise in the nucleus).

It’s |no |use |sending for the ‘doctor? – A question (high rise in the nucleous).

It’s ↘no ↘use↘sending for the √doctor. – A statement + implication (fall-rise in the nucleus).

|Wait ˎhere! – A categoric order (a falling tone)

|Wait ,here! - A polite request ( a rising tone)

ˎIsn’t she a |nice |girl! – An exclamation (a falling tone)

|Isn’t she a |nice ,girl? – A general question ( a rising tone).

The decisive role of intonation in defining the communicative type of an utterance stands out clearly in those cases where grammar and intonation are at variance; for example, where the grammatical features suggest a statement but the intonation turns the utterance into a question, or vice versa, e.g. –

You ‘like it?

ˎIsn’t he |stupid!

(His |pictures are |very ˎstriking.) – ˎYes,  ˎaren’t they?

(It |looks like ,rain.) – It ‘does,  ‘doesn’t it?

      Attitudinal meanings (the mood of the speaker, his attitude to the situation and to the listener) are also expressed only by intonation.

      In his “Advice to Foreign Learners” A.C. Gimson emphasizes the necessity of learning “the English usage of falls and rises to signify the mood of the speaker, so that an over-use of rises will not give an unintentional impression of, for example, diffidence or complaint, and too many falls create an unwitting effect of impolite assertiveness”.

The components of intonation

     As has been mentioned above, the sentence possesses definite phonetic features. Each feature performs a definite task, and all of them work simultaneously. Thus,

  1.  Sentences are usually separated from each other by pauses. If necessary, the sentence is subdivided into shorter word-groups according to sense; these are called sense-groups or syntagms.
  2.  The pitch of the voice does not stay on the same level while the sentence (or the sense-group) is pronounced; it fluctuates, rising and falling on the vowels and voiced consonants. These falls and rises are not chaotic, but form definite patterns, typical of English. The fluctuations of the voice-pitch are called speech melody.
  3.  The word acting as its semantic centre, is made prominent by stress and a special moving tone; the special tone is the result of a perceptible change in the pitch, which either falls, or rises, or changes its movement first in one direction, then in another (fall-rise or fall-fall). The movement is initiated  on the stressed syllable of the most important word of the sentence ( or sense-group).
  4.   Other words, also essential for the meaning, are stressed, but the pitch of these words remains unchanged.
  5.  Form words, performing grammatical functions (such as articles, prepositions, auxiliary, modal, and link verbs) are usually left unstressed; they are mostly pronounced in their reduced forms (weak) forms.
  6.  Connected English speech comes as a series of closely-knit groups of words, each group containing only one stressed syllable. The stressed syllables occur at approximately equal intervals of time, e.g. –

It |isn’t e’xactly what I˴ want.

The result of this subtle interrelationship of stress and time is a peculiar rhythm resembling a drum-beat. This rhythm is not easy for a foreigner to acquire, but its absence often makes his speech barely intelligible.

  1.    The rate of speech is not constant, but is made to suit the semantic weight of each sentence or sense-group of the utterance. For example, utterances in direct speech are usually pronounced slower than those that are said parenthetically, and stressed elements of a sentence are pronounced slower than the unstressed ones.
  2.    The timbre of the voice changes in accordance with the emotions experienced by the speaker.

  All the phonetic features of the sentence enumerated above (speech melody, sentence-stress, tempo, rhythm, pauses and timbre) form a complex unity, called intonation.

  The most important components of intonation from the linguistic point of view are: speech melody, sentence-stress, and rhythm.

  It should be borne in mind that all the components of intonation are closely connected; none of them can be separated in actual speech. This can be done, however, for the sake of analysis which is essential as a preliminary stage in mastering intonation.

 English speech melody. Its forms

No sentence can exist without a definite melodic contour. In the shortest utterances consisting of only one monosyllabic word the melodic contour is very simple: the pitch changes within the monosyllabic word. This change may be effected by lowering or raising the pitch to different degrees, or by combining this lowering and raising in a different order and thus obtaining more complex tones.

    Obviously it is possible to produce an infinite variety of moving tones: we can begin and finish the tone at different pitches, we can alter the range of pitch-movement, etc.

    For practical purposes of teaching and learning English intonation, however, it is sufficient to distinguish six tones.

    Thus, the monosyllabic word “No” may be pronounced with the following six main tones:

The low fall starts in the middle of the voice range and gradually descends to a very low pitch:

The low rise starts at a very low pitch and gradually ascends to the middle of the voice range:

The high fall starts at a high pitch and then falls to a very low pitch:

The fall-rise starts with a fall similar to that of the high fall which is immediately followed by a low rise:

The stress dies away during the initial fall but is partially revived as the rise begins

The rise-fall starts in the middle of the voice range, rises to a very high pitch and then falls to a very low pitch:

          The realization of the rise-fall varies with the number of syllables in the word in which the tone is used and with the location of stress.

          In a monosyllabic word, naturally, the rise and the fall are realized in one syllable, e.g. ^Oh! ^Fine! ^Thanks.

           In a word of two syllables, the first of which is stressed and contains a vowel that can be prolonged, the stressed syllable is pronounced with high rise, and the unstressed one – on a very low pitch, e.g. ^Gorgeous!

Good ^evening!

           If the first syllable of the nucleus contains a short vowel, it is given a low level stress, after which the voice jumps upward in pitch and falls during the second syllable, which is quite unstressed, e.g. ^Never!

With ^pleasure!

           In a word of three syllables, the first of which is stressed, the stressed syllable is pronounced on a medium level tone, the second (unstressed) syllable is very high pitched, and the last (unstressed) syllable is very low pitched, e.g. ^Wonderful

           On the ^contrary!

           The syllable on which the moving tone is performed is called the nucleus of the utterance.

            In longer utterances the melodic contour becomes more complex because of the words preceding and following the nucleus and forming the head, pre-head, and tail of the contour.

            The nucleus may be preceded and followed by stressed and unstressed syllables.

            Stressed syllables preceding the nucleus together with the intervening unstressed syllables form the head of the contour:

  1.   ‘Mary ‘hasn’t ‘heard from him since ,May.

  1.  Can you ‘tell me the ‘shortest ‘way to the ,Zoo?

                       Head             Nucleus

Initial unstressed syllables make a pre-head:

  1.   He was ‘glad to ‘find his ,key.

Pre-head                 Head           Nucleus

  1.   Has it been a ‘great re,lief?

                   Pre-head            Head             Nucleus

             Stressed and unstressed syllables following the nucleus are called the tail:

  1.   It was ‘clearly in’evitable.

Pre-head          Head         Nucleus    Tail

  1.   You could have |seen it was in,evitable.

       Pre-head               Head                  Nucleus    Tail

  1.  ‘What was ,that I ,wonder?

Head              Nucleus          Tail

     The nucleus is the only indispensable part of the contour; head, pre-head, and tail are not obligatory, and the length and character of each of contour may vary considerably. In some of the examples given above there is no pre-head, in others there is no tail. In such utterances as:

,Yes      ,No                      ‘Wait.

There is nothing but the nucleus.

Types of Heads

      A head beginning on a high pitch and then gradually descending in level pitches on the stressed syllables of the utterance, is called a stepping head:

        It’s  |much too |late to have any regrets now.

Stepping head

        The unstressed syllables which occur between the stressed syllables of a stepping head are pronounced on the pitch of the stressed syllable which precedes them.

        Gradually descending scale of level pitches on the stressed syllables is a typical feature of English intonation.

        The unstressed syllables may gradually descend in pitch too. In that case the head may be called a falling head and the tomogram will be as follows:

       J. D. O’Connor and G.F. Arnold in “Intonation of Colloquial English” (1973) establish a new type of head in which both stressed and unstressed syllables are said on the same high pitch. They call it a high head:

I |thought we ‘ought to |have a ,talk.

High head

      A head beginning on a low pitch and remaining there is called a low head:

       It’s no good a pologizing  now.

Low head

How did you  manage to  do  that?

Low head

     The stressed syllables may gradually rise towards the high-falling nucleus. In that case the head is called a rising head and the tomogram will be as follows:

      How did you  manage to  do  that?

Rising head

     If the head presents a fall in pitch that is not so gradual as in the stepping head but rather “jumpy”, we get what is called the sliding head. In that case the stressed syllables of the head are marked with the symbol [  ]:

  1.    I knew you   hadn’t   finished it.


                            Sliding head

  1.    You could at   least   try.



            (с)   I   doubt whether  I can   give an   answer by   then.


       As can be observed in the tonograms, the effect of “jumping” is achieved either by considerably lowering the pitch inside the stressed syllables of the head (if there are no intermediate unstressed syllables as in example b), or by pronouncing the intermediate unstressed syllables at a much lower pitch than the preceding stressed syllable (see examples a and c).

 Types of Pre-Heads

        A low pre-head consists of unstressed syllables pronounced at a low pitch, or gradually ascending in pitch towards the head or the nucleus:

But you’ll be  home in  time for  dinner?



       The low pre-head is used so frequently that it may be considered as normal.

       A high pre-head consists of unstressed syllables pronounced on a high pitch:

        How  can you be so  obstinate?


        Do it your self  then.


       A high pre-head gives to the utterance an extremely emotional character and may be regarded as a feature of emphatic speech.

Types of Tails

       A low tail is one in which everything that comes after a falling-tone nucleus is pronounced at a low pitch:

  1.   I know  nothing about it.

  1.   I  tried  both  methods  but I  found  neither to be  satis factory.



                            Tail                                                                 Tail

          A rising tail occurs when all the syllables that come after a rising-tone nucleus gradually rise in pitch. The word carrying the syntagmatic stress is very low pitched in the case of a low rise, or is pronounced in the middle of the voice-range in the case of high rise. Thus, strictly speaking, it is the tail that is responsible for the rising effect.

  1.    I  promise  I  won’t   tell anyone.


  1.    When’s the  best  time  to  catch him, do you suppose?



  1.  Oh,  I’m  hopeless at  that sort of  thing.


  1.   How  old, did you  say?


         As can be seen from the above examples, the tail may contain not only unstressed, but stressed syllables as well. The stressed syllables of the tail, however, have a weaker stress than the stressed syllables of the head.


         It is easy to see that combinations of nuclei, heads, pre-heads and tails lead to a great variety of melodic patterns in English intonation. In teaching English intonation it is certainly desirable to represent the melodic structure of the language as a simple system of patterns based upon the most important linguistic functions of intonation. Since the most significant component of intonation utterance is made prominent by one of the special tones typical of the language, it is natural to systematize the melodic patterns according to these special tones. Thus, the great variety of possible patterns can be reduced to six intonation contours, based on the six main tones used in the nuclei. These tones, when combined with the different heads, tails and pre-heads, give rise to a few significative variants of intonation contour.

        The abbreviation IC stands for “intonation contour” in all the explanations given below.

         IC 1 is based on a low fall in the nucleus. The low fall is preceded by the stepping head. The pre-head, if there is any, may be low or high. The tail is always low-pitched.

Examples of IC 1:

  1.   The e xams are  over  at  last.


  1.   Isn’t it  wonderful!

  1.   That is  good of you.

There is an important variant of IC 1 with a low head or no head; if there is a pre-head, it is low, too; the tail is low pitched.

Examples of IC 1a:

  1.   Yes.

  1.   Why  not?

  1.   I’ve  lost my  appetite.

IC 2 based on a low rise in the nucleus. The low rise is preceded by the stepping head. The pre-head may be high or low. The tail rises gradually to a medium pitch.

Examples of IC 2:

  1.  It  doesn’t  matter.

  1.  Do you  know when the  Festival  ends?

  1.    What do you  want it  for?

There is an important variant of IC 2 with a low head or no head. The pre-head, if there is any, is low, too. If there is a tail, it rises gradually to a medium pitch.

Examples of IC 2a:

  1.    Yes.

  1.    Certainly.

  1.  You could  en quire.

  1.   What’s she  going  to  do about it?  

            IC 3 is based on a high fall for its nucleus. The high fall is preceded by the stepping head. The pre-head, if there is any, may be low or high. The tail is always low-pitched:

Examples of IC 3:

  1.   Very  well.

  1.   It’s  not as  far as you i magine.

  1.   It just  can’t be  true.

  1.   I could  hardly be lieve my  eyes.

     There is an important variant of IC 3 with a low head or no head: if there is a pre-head, it is low, too. The tail is low-pitched:


Examples of IC 3a:

  1.  E xactly.

  1.   I  thought they were  all  gone.

   IC 4 has a high rise for its nucleus.

   The other components of the melodic contour, if there are any, are: stepping head, low pre-head and rising tail.

Examples of IC 4:

  1.    Yes?

  1.    Interesting?

  1.   Oughtn’t  I to have been con sulted?

  1.   Mix it with  half a   pound of   sugar?

IC 5 has a fall-rise for it nucleus. The fall-rise may be preceded by a low pre-head and a sliding or stepping head. The tail gradually rises towards a medium pitch. The nucleus often consists of one word, so that the fall-rise may be called undivided:

In those cases where the rise includes other words besides the one that carries the fall, these words are either unstressed or weakly stressed:


Examples of IC 5:

  1.     Please.

  1.   It’s un likely.

  1.   You could a pologize.

  1.   He          hasn’t       definitely re fused.

  1.        Watch it!

An important variant of IC 5 is represented by the fall-rise that extends over at least two and often many words. The fall is always high and makes one of the initial words very prominent. The low rise usually occurs near the end of the sense-group and gives prominence to a second word that semantically stands next in importance to the word carrying the high fall. There may be stressed and unstressed words between the high fall and the low rise, but they should be pronounced on a low pitch. This variant of IC 5 may be described as fall-rise divided:

  The high fall of this contour may be preceded by a stepping head, low head, sliding head, and low pre-head. The low rise at the end of the sense-group reaches the medium pitch.

Examples of IC 5a:

  1.    Cheer  up.

  1.  Per haps it would be  better to  stay at  home,  in  that  case. 

(с) Even the  best of us make mis takes  sometimes.

IC 6 has a rise-fall for its nucleus. If there is a head, it is usually stepping. The pre-head is usually of the low type. The tail is low-pitched.

Examples of IC 6:

  1.    Yes.

  1.    It was   not like  that at  all.

  1.   I  simply    hated it.

The general shape of an intonation contour is in most cases clear enough from the pitches of the stressed syllables of the utterance, among which the nucleus  is the most important one. Therefore, the main intonation contours with their variants are sufficient to represent the intonation of ordinary English speech and may be conveniently represented by the following graphic symbols:

IC 1       (stepping head + low fall)

IC 1a       (low head + low fall)

IC 2        (stepping head + low rise)

IC 2a       (low head + low rise)

IC 3        (stepping head + high fall)

IC 3a       (low head + high fall)

IC 4       (high rise)

IC 5        (fall-rise undivided)

IC 5a       (fall-rise divided)

IC 6       (rise-fall)

The pitch of unstressed syllables, however, is important for the complete meaning of the utterance; it can express the attitudinal features and the emotional state of the speaker.

In unemphatic speech initial unstressed syllables are always low-pitched and form the low pre-head, e.g. –

We’ve been ex pecting them.

Intermediate unstressed syllables which aid in forming a gradually descending scale are pronounced on the same pitch as the preceding stressed syllables (stepping head) or may gradually descend in pitch (falling head).

What are you  going to  do about it?

Final unstressed syllables forming the tail of the utterance are always low-pitched when they follow a falling nuclear tone, and always gradually rise in the case of a rising pattern. In the latter case the nuclear syllable is pronounced on the lowest level pitch.


It was   yesterday.

 Are you   quite  sure?

 Are you   quite  sure of it?

In emphatic speech initial unstressed syllables are sometimes very high-pitched, particularly in colloquial English, and form the high pre-head.

Intermediate unstressed syllables are often much lower-pitched than the  preceding stressed syllable, and form the sliding head.

Final unstressed syllables are treated in the same way as in unemphatic speech.


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