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The nuclear tones in English

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According to R. Kingdon the most important nuclear tones in English are: Low Fall, High Fall, Low Rise, High Rise, and Fall-Rise.

The meanings of the nuclear tones are difficult to specify in general terms. Roughly speaking the falling tone of any level and range expresses certainty, completeness, and independence. A rising tone on the contrary expresses uncertainty, incompleteness or dependence. A falling-rising tone may combine the falling tone's meaning of assertion, certainty with the rising tone's meaning of dependence, incompleteness. At the end of a phrase it often conveys a feeling of reservation; that is, it asserts something and at the same time suggests that there is something else to be said. At the beginning or in the middle of a phrase it is a more forceful alternative to the rising tone, expressing the assertion of one point, together with the implication that another point is to follow. The falling-rising tone, as its name suggests, consists of a fall in pitch followed by a rise. If the nucleus is the lastsyllable of the intonation group the fall and rise both take place on one syllable.

A falling tone may be used in referring expressions as well.

· I've spoken with the CLEAner.

Questions that begin with wh-questions are generally pronounced with a falling tone:

· Where is the PENcil?

Imperative statements have a falling tone.

· Go and see a DOCtor.

· Take a SEAT.

Requests or orders have a falling tone too.

· Please sit DOWN

· Call him IN.

Exclamations:

· WatchOUT!

Yes/No questions and tag questions seeking or expecting confirmation can be uttered with a falling tone. And the response to it may be lengthened. Consider the following example:

· a) You like it, DON'T you?

· b) YEES.

In English there is often clear evidence of an intonation-group boundary, but no audible nuclear tone movement preceding. In such a circumstance two courses are open: either one may classify the phenomenon as a further kind of head or one may consider it to be the level nuclear tone. Low Level tone is very characteristic of reading poetry. Mid-Level tone is particularly common in spontaneous speech functionally replacing the rising tone.

There are two more nuclear tones in English: Rise-Fall and Rise-Fall-Rise. But adding refinement to speech they are not absolutely essential tones for the foreign learner to acquire. Rise-Fall can always be replaced by High Fall and Rise-Fall-Rise by Fall-Rise without making nonsense of the utterance.



According to D. Crystal, there are nine ways of saying Yes as an answer to the question Will you marry me?

1. Low fall. The most neutral tone; a detached, unemotional statement of fact.

2. Full fall. Emotionally involved; the higher the onset of the tone, the more involved the speaker; choice of emotion (surprise, excitement, irritation) depends on the speaker's facial expression.

3. Mid fall. Routine, uncommitted comment; detached and unexcited.

4. Low rise. Facial expression important; with a 'happy' face, the tone is sympathetic and friendly; with a 'grim' face, it is guarded and ominous.

5. Full rise. Emotionally involved, often «disbelief or shock, the extent of the emotion depending on the width of the tone.

6. High rise. Mild query or puzzlement; often used in echoing what has just been said.

7. Level. Bored, sarcastic, ironic.

8. Fall-rise. A strongly emotional tone; a straight or 'negative' face conveys uncertainty, doubt, or tentativeness; a positive face conveys encouragement or urgency.

9. Rise-fall. Strong emotional involvement; depending on the face, the attitude might be delighted, challenging, or complacent.

 


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