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Intonation






Closely connected with stress is intonation which means the tune you use when you are speaking, the melody of speech. Intonation means the pitch you use and the music you use to change that pitch. E.g., if I say ‘You are from Australia, aren’t you? ’ starting my question at the medium pitch of my voice range and dropping the pitch at the end of the sentence on ‘aren’t you’, this will indicate to other competent speakers of English that I am merely seeking confirmation of a fact about which I am almost completely certain. If, on the other hand, I say the same question with my voice rising at the end, e.g., ‘You are from Australia, aren’t you? ’ this might well indicate that the question is a genuine one and I am asking the listener to satisfy my doubts about his nationality.

Intonation is a big indicator of involvement as well. If I tell what I think is a fascinating story and my listener says ‘ How interesting’, starting at low pitch and dropping his voice on the ‘int’ of ‘interesting’ I will be fairly despondent since by his use of pitch and intonation he will have plainly told me that he didn’t think much of my story. High pitch and a small fall, on the other hand, would be much nicer, since that would indicate that my audience was fascinated by what I had to say.

Intonation is clearly important then, and competent users of the language recognise what meaning it has and can change the meaning of what they say through using it in different ways.