Intonation patterns serve to actualize syntagms in oral speech. It may be well to remind you here that the syntagm is a group of words which is semantically and syntactically complete. In phoneticsactualized syntagms are called intonation groups (sense-groups, tone-groups). Each intonationgroup may consist of one or more potential syntagms, e.g. the sentence / think he is coming soon has two potential syntagms: / think and he is coming soon. In oral speech it is normally actualized as one intonation group.
The intonation group is a stretch of speech which may have the length of the whole phrase. But the phrase often contains more than one intonation group. The number of intonation groups depends on the length of the phrase and the degree of semantic importance or emphasis given to various parts of it:
This bed was not' slept, in— ,This bed was not' slept in
An additional terminal tone on this bed expresses an emphasis on this bed in contrast to other beds.
Not all stressed syllables are of equal importance. One of the syllables has the greater prominence than the others and forms the nucleus, or focal point of an intonation pattern. Formally the nucleusmay be described as a strongly stressed syllable which is generally the last strongly accented syllableof an intonation pattern and which marks a significant change of pitch direction, that is where the pitch goes distinctly up or down. The nuclear tone is the most important part of the intonation pattern without which the latter cannot exist at all. On the other hand an intonation pattern may consist of one syllable which is its nucleus. The tone of a nucleus determines the pitch of the rest of theintonation pattern following it which is called the tail. Thus after a falling tone, the rest of theintonation pattern is at a low pitch. After a rising tone the rest of the intonation pattern moves in an upward pitch direction:
No, Mary — Well, Mary.
The nucleus and the tail form what is called terminal tone. The two other sections of the intonationpattern are the head and the pre-head which form the pre-nuclear part of the intonation pattern and, like the tail, they may be looked upon as optional elements:
Lake District is one of the loveliest 'parts of, Britain.
The pre-nuclear part can take a variety of pitch patterns. Variation within the prе-nucleus does not usually affect the grammatical meaning of the utterance, though it often conveys meanings associated with attitude or phonetic styles. There are three common types of prе-nucleus: a descending type in which the pitch gradually descends (often in "steps") to the nucleus; an ascending type in which the syllables form an ascending sequence and a level type when all the syllables stay more or less on the same level.
The meaning of the intonation group is the combination of the «meaning» of the terminal tone and the pre-nuclear part combined with the «meaning» of pitch range and pitch level. The parts of theintonation pattern can be combined in various ways manifesting changes in meaning, cf.: the High Head combined with Low Fall, High Fall, Low Rise, High Rise, Fall-Rise in the phrase Not at all.
—>Not at all (reserved, calm).
—>Not at all (surprised, concerned).
—>Not at all (encouraging, friendly).
—> Not at all (questioning).
—> Not at all (intensely encouraging, protesting).
The more the height of the pitch contrasts within the intonation pattern the more emphatic theintonation group sounds, cf.:
He's won. Fantastic.
The changes of pitch, loudness and tempo are not haphazard variations. The rules of change are highly organized. No matter how variable the individual variations of these prosodic components are they tend to become formalized or standardized, so that all speakers of the language use them in similar ways under similar circumstances. These abstracted characteristics of intonation structures may be called intonation patterns which form the prosodic system of English.
Some intonation patterns may be completely colourless in meaning: they give to the listener no implication of the speaker's attitude or feeling. They serve a mechanical function — they provide a mold into which all sentences may be poured so that they achieve utterance. Such intonationpatterns represent the intonational minimum of speech. The number of possible combinations is more than a hundred but not all of them ate equally important. Some of them do not differ much in meaning, others are very rarely used. That is why in teaching it is necessary to deal only with a very limited number of intonation patterns, which are the result of a careful choice.
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