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Intonation: approaches, definitions

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Lecture 7. Intonation

Intonation is a language universal. There are no languages which are spoken without any change of prosodic parameters but intonation functions in various languages in a different way.

There are two main approaches to the problem of intonation in Great Britain. One is known as a contour analysis and the other may be called grammatical.

a) What's your NAME
b) My name's GEORGE.

a) Where are you FROM?
b) I'm from WALES.

a) Where do you LIVE
b) I live in BONN

a) When does the school term END
b) It ends in MAY.

a) What do you DO
b) I'm a STUdent.

The first is represented by a large group of phoneticians: H. Sweet, D. Jones, G. Palmer, L. Armstrong, I. Ward, R. Kingdon, J. O'Connor, A. Gimson and others. It is traditional and widely used. According to this approach the smallest unit to which linguistic meaning can be attached is a tone-group (sense-group). Their theory is based on the assumption that intonation consists of basic functional "blocks". They pay much attention to these "blocks" but not to the way they are connected.Intonation is treated by them as a layer that is superimposed on the lexico-grammatical structure. In fact the aim of communication determines the intonation structure, not vice versa.

The grammatical approach to the study of intonation was worked out by M. Halliday. The main unit of intonation is a clause. Intonation is a complex of three systemic variables: tonality, tonicity and tone, which are connected with grammatical categories. Tonality marks the beginning and the end of a tone-group. Tonicity marks the focal point of each tone-group. Tone is the third unit in Halliday's system. Tones can be primary and secondary. They convey the attitude of the speaker. Hallyday's theory is based on the syntactical function of intonation.

The founder of the American school of intonation K. Pike in his book «The Intonation of American English» considers «pitch phonemes» and «contours» to be the main units of intonation. He describes different contours and their meanings, but the word «meaning» stands apart from communicative function of intonation.

There is wide agreement among Russian linguists that on perception level intonation is a complex, a whole, formed by significant variations of pitch, loudness and tempo closely related. Though speech timbre definitely conveys certain shades of attitudinal or emotional meaning there is no good reason to consider it alongside with the three prosodic components of intonation, i.e. pitch, loudness andtempo.

M. Sokolova and others write that the term prosody embraces the three prosodic components and substitutes the term intonation. It is widely used in linguistic literature, it causes no misunderstanding and, consequently, it is more adequate. They feel strongly that this term would be more suitable for their book too, but, unfortunately, it has not been accepted in the teaching process yet.

Many foreign scholars (A. Gimson, R. Kingdon) restrict the formal definition of intonation to pitch movement alone, though occasionally allowing in variations of loudness as well. According to D. Crystal, the most important prosodic effects are those conveyed by the linguistic use of pitch movement, or melody. It is clearly not possible to restrict the term intonation by the pitch parameters only because generally all the three prosodic parameters function as a whole though in many cases the priority of the pitch parameter is quite evident.

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