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Sichuan Post and Telecommunication College. Function of Intonation Unit 15. SPTC Chengdu, CN Wednesday, May 2 st , 2005. Guo Liangyan Huang Deqiang Liu Jia Hu Jie. Unit 15 The organization of information.

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Sichuan Post and Telecommunication College

Function of IntonationUnit 15


Chengdu, CN

Wednesday, May 2st, 2005


Huang Deqiang

Liu Jia

Hu Jie

Unit 15 The organization of information

When talking with a person the speaker generally presents his information in pieces that are manageable to both himself and his addressee: a piece of information within one tonⅦe-unit instead of saying it in one breath as follows.

(a) This letter belongs to  you, Shiela. ‖

Now consider a different way of intoning it:

(b) ﬞ This letter belongs to  you, Shiela. ‖

Here the speaker breaks the rather long sentence into two tone-units and thus it seems more manageable than (a) with one tone-unit only. It can be readily understood by the person he addresses. The speaker is perhaps dealing with a pile of letters one afternoon. She happens to find one for Shiela among many others and passes it at once to Shiela.

On the other hand, the fall-rise on the first tone-unit This letter indicates "incomplete information" or "minor information" whereas the second tone-unit indicates "complete information" or "major information".

Similar examples:

She′︳took the ﬞ car ︱and′︳drove to  London. ‖

I V looked at her︱ and′︳recognized her at  once. ‖

Sometimes the tone-unit of minor information comes after the main piece of information, but said with a rise:

She ′︳couldn't fall a  sleep ︱though she was ∕tired.

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

We can also analyze the functions of English intonation by considering the speaker's purpose in saying something. Is the speaker telling something or asking you? Are they commanding you or requesting you to do something? Generally speaking, a falling tone denotes "speaker-dominance": the speaker knows and tells, orders, demands, etc. A rising tone, on the other hand, denotes "speaker-deference". the speaker does not know and has to ask, the speaker has got no authority and has to request etc.

If you feel you are in authority and can tell others to do something you can say:

Turn down the  radio, my children. ‖

If you don't feel :you have any authority over others you may change your tone and say:

Turn down the / radio. ‖

Turn down the / radio, please. ‖

Now compare the different tones and their effects on the question tag "aren't you":

(a) You're  happy with me, ︱  aren't you? ‖

(b) You're  happy with me, ︱/ aren't you? ‖

The fall in (a) suggests certainty and speaker dominance, but the rise in (b) suggests uncertainly and speaker-deference.

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

Social exchanges are also taken as fulfilling communicative functions. They are simply intended to maintain social relationships between people. For example, greetings and farewells, thanks and apologizes, and so on. Some of these functions generally require a fall, others a rise or a fall-rise.

1) Greetings: fall

Good  morning. ‖

Good after  noon. ‖

How do you  do? ‖

How  are you? ‖

Good / morning. ‖seems to be less formal than Good  morning. ‖ and sounds to be "bright" and "friendly"

He / 11o! ‖(on the phone)

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

2) Farewells: rise

Good / bye, ‖

See you a / gain, ‖

Good  bye, ‖ (It may sound like dismissal. )

3) Thanks. fall

 Thank you. ‖

/ Thank you. ‖ (less formal)

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

4) Welcomes, toasts and congratulations: fall

 Welcome. ‖

How nice to  see you. ‖

Very glad to  meet you. ‖

 Cheers. ‖

Good  health. ‖

To the bride and  groom. ‖

Congratulations, on your en  gagement. ‖

Well  done. ‖

May we congratulate on your recent ap  pointment.

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

5) Apologies and sympathy: rise

I'm so / sorry. ‖

I do beg your / pardon. ‖

We won't let that happen a / gain. ‖

That's a / pity. ‖

6) Requests for attention: rise or fall-rise

Ex ﬞ cuse me. ‖

ﬞ Waiter! ‖

ﬞ Doctor! ‖

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

Introductions usually take a rise and the announcement following them a fall.

/ Simon, ︱I would like you to meet my boss. ‖

Mr. / Blake︱this is my  nephew, ︱Mr. Jones. ‖

To sum up, English tones can indicate the communicative intent of the speaker. It is another basic function of intonation.

Unit 15

The realization of communicative functions

Unit 15

The demonstration of syntactic structures

Intonation in English can fulfill a grammatical function.

It can serve to distinguish sentence types.


(1a) She was′︳not  there. ‖(a declarative)

(lb) She was′︳ not / there? ‖(a Yes/No interrogative)

(2a) ′︳Shut the  door. ‖ (an imperative)

(2b) ′︳Shut the / door. ‖ (a request)

Unit 15

The demonstration of syntactic structures

This function can also relate intonation to the syntax of clauses. The division into tone-units tends to follow the syntactic structure. Tone-units and clauses often coincide. Example:

When you / enter︱ the ︳lecture hall is on the  left. ‖

where each clause is taken as a tone-unit and is assigned a special tone.

Tonality---part of the intonation system--can also help to distinguish parallel wordings that contrast in syntactic structure.

1) The distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive items.

I learned about the accident from my cousin, ︱who lives in New York. ‖

I learned about the accident from my cousin who lives in New York. ‖

Unit 15

The demonstration of syntactic structures

2) The distinction between the direct object complementing all the preceding verbs and the direct object complementing the only one immediately before it.

She washed and dressed the baby. ‖

She washed︱and dressed the baby. ‖

We can also find similar examples like:

The postman left five letters and a package for Mike. ‖

The postman left five letters︱and a package for Mike. ‖

3) The distinction between adverbial or manner adjunct and comment or attitudinal adjunct.

They came home happily. ‖

They came home ︱ happily. ‖

4) The distinction between object clause and adverbial clause.

I'U ′︳tell him  when the plane leaves. ‖

I'll  tell him︱when the′︳plane/leaves. ‖

Unit 15

The demonstration of syntactic structures

Tonicity, as part of the intonation system, can sometimes realize a syntactic contrast in parallel wording as tonality does. Examples:

1) The distinction between reflexive pronoun and emphatic pronoun.

He  asked himself. ‖

He asked him  self. ‖

2) The distinction between a final vocative and the object of the verb.

 Shoot, Tom. ‖

Shoot  Tom. ‖

 Shout, my dear. ‖

′︳Shout, "My  dear!" ‖

3 ) The distinction between adjuncts of manner and comment or attitudinal adjuncts,

He didn't see the film  stupidly. ‖ (i. e. in a stupid manner)

He didn't see the  film stupidly. ‖(i. e. it was stupid of him not to see the film)

1. Here is a BBC news item given without punctuation. Mark the tone-unit boundaries and underline the appropriate tonic syllables and provide an appropriate tone mark for each tone-unit according to the BBC newsreader.

a conference of African nations is beginning in Ghana to

try to work out how to provide every African with clean

water at an affordable price the United Nations report to

be considered by delegations in Accra says more than one

billion people world-wide don't have access to safe drinking

water with half the global population lacking adequate

sanitation it says two million people mostly in Africa die

needlessly every year because water supplies are not being

properly managed experts say the problem is stifling

African development a BBC correspondent says the challenge

for the conference is to produce ideas involving all sectors

of society but which don't cost a lot but the emphasis

on sustainability rather than short term fixes.


Intonation can indicate a variety of attitudes without a change of wording. You may not be unhappy with what somebody said, but may be angry with the way he said it. The attitudinal function of intonation answers the question "How is it being said?" Learners of English should be

trained to listen for what is superimposed upon the words.

The description of the basic meanings of nuclear tones is given according to the following categories (Cruttenden 2001). It seems more traditional and practical to us:

major declaratives

minor declaratives


Yes/No interrogatives




Unit 15 The expression of attitude

Major declaratives refer to those cases where the tone-unit corresponds to an independent clause, to the main clause in a complex sentence, to the last clause in a compound sentence, to that part of any of these which is remaindered when the adverbial, or the subject or some other part of the clause takes a separate tone-unit.

That looks fine. ‖

He was a great help︱while my husband was away. ‖

I work here︱and live here, too. ‖

The tall lady by the door︱spoke to John. ‖

Usually︱he comes on Saturdays. ‖

He comes home on Saturdays︱usually.. ‖

The fall on the major declaratives can express finality, definiteness, liveliness and involvement.

That is the end of the \ news. ‖

A: It'll ︳cost a°lot of ﬞ money. ‖

B: \ Certainly. ‖ (\ Obviously. )‖ \ Naturally. ‖

A: ︳John °looks as if he's \ worried. ‖

B: I a\ gree with you. ‖

Unit 15 Major declaratives

Declarative questions and echoes may take a high rise.

A: I wrote to him \ yesterday. ‖

B: You wrote to him / yesterday? ‖

The Low Rise preceded by a high head sound encouraging or even patronizing while the Low Rise preceded by other low syllables (pre-head or head) is complaining.

A: ︳Aren't you °ready to / start? ‖

B: I ︳shan't be a / moment. ‖

A: Good / bye. ‖

B: ︳Come and°stay with us a°gain / soon. ‖

A: I 'can't find your com°putor 'anywhere. ‖

B: ︳That's / funny. ‖

A: You've I done it the °wrong \ way. ‖

B: Dose it / matter? ‖

Unit 15 Major declaratives

All those parts of declarative sentences excluded under major declaratives are included under this heading. Most of them are sentence non-final subjects, adverbials, the first clause of compound sentences and on many occasions the subordinate clause of complex sentences. The tones often used on these tone-units are rises, including Fall-Rise, Low Rise, or Mid Level.

The ﬞ best person to do it︱would be ︳Miss \ Li. ‖

What I'd ﬞ like︱is a ︳cup of \ coffee. ‖

ﬞ First︱I put it on the °narrow \ shelf︱a bove the \ television ︱ but I

was a fraid that it might ﬞ drop︱and \ break. ‖

She ︳stood / up︱and ︳walked \ out. ‖

Please note here that a sort of contrast may be conveyed by the use of the Fall-Rise.

︳We all \ like it, ︱ but Mr. ﬞ Smith ︱\ doesn't. ‖

In ﬞ my opinion ︱she is \ wise. ‖

Unit 15 Minor declaratives

The most common tone on Wh-interrogatives is failing.

A: ︳Where do you \ live?︱︳Do you °live in / London? ‖

B: Yes,︱I \ do. ‖

A: ︳When shall I °see you a/ gain? ‖

B: I shall be ︳here on \ Monday. ‖

A: ︳Shall we °talk about it vthen? ‖

A: ︳How can I \ help you? ‖

B: You can ︳carry \ this. ‖

A: I \will︱if I \ can. ‖

The alternative tone on Wh-interrogatives is the Low Rise if the speaker wishes to be more polite or to show more interest.

A: We are ︳off to Se \ attle. ‖

B: i Where are you ﹖↗ going? ‖

If the speaker asks for repetition he may use a high rise.

A: I went to ︳Shaftesbury \ Avenue last night. . ‖

B: /When did you . go there? ‖

Unit 15 Wh-interrogatives

The more polite way of asking Yes/No questions is with a low rise preceded by a high head.

Simon: Is ︳this°Piccadilly /Circus? ‖

Peter: \No, ︱this is Tra ︳falgar \ Square. ‖

Simon: ︳What a°high \ building ! ‖

Is ︳that the °Post Office / Tower? ‖

Peter: \ No, ︱it \ isn't. ‖

A fall, high or low, may sound demanding or rude.

A: The ︳meals here are \ terrible. ‖

B: ︳Are you \ satisfied? ‖

Man: I ︳can't°find my \ shaver. I‖

Woman: Are you sure you brought it \ with you? ‖

Unit 15 Yes/No interrogatives

Tag-interrogatives are in nature shortened Yes/No questions appended to a preceding declarative. They are mostly negative if the preceding declarative is positive and vice versa. A falling tone on a tag demands agreement from the listener whereas a rising tone asks for the opinion of the listener.

It's about ︳eight o \ clock, ︱/ isn't it? ‖

You're ︳not/frightened, ︱\ are you? ‖

It's \ fine today, ︱\ isn't it? ‖

Unit 15 Tag interrogatives

Imperatives are sometimes referred to as commands and requests. Abrupt imperatives or commands have a falling tone. Polite imperatives or requests are said with a rising tone and occasionally a fall-rise.

A: It's ︳most \ kind of you. ‖

B: ︳Don't \ mention it. ‖

A: ︳Can't we be / friends a.gain? ‖

B: Ad︳mit you were \ wrong, then. ‖

A: ︳Which is \ my .place? ‖

B: ︳Come and °sit beside your/ mother. ‖

A rising tag-interrogative may be appended to a command to soften it.

︳Come over \ here a .minute ︱/ will you? ‖

︳Come and sit \ down ︱/ won't you? ‖

Unit 15 Imperatives

They are also called exclamations or interjections. A falling tone is common on them.

A: ︳Thank you °very \ much. ‖

B: ︳Not at \ all. ‖

A: ︳Here's \ to you. ‖

B: Your ︳very good \ health. ‖

A: I ︳hear you're °being pro \ moted. ‖

B: ︳Absolute \ nonsense! ‖

A: We're ︳going \ picnicking. ‖

B: ︳What a°good i\ dea! ‖

Unit 15 Exclamatives

2. In the following conversations, B's response should be given with thefeeling or attitude as indicated by the words in brackets. Please mark on the text the intonation you think is appropriate.

(1) A: He \ is a handsome boy, ︱\ isn't he? ‖

B: He has a lovely face. ‖ (But he's hot-tempered. )

(2) A: She is a ︳Ph \ B‖

B: A Ph D. ‖(impressed)

(3) A: Will the/students stay in the hotel? ‖

B' Some of them. ‖ (uncertain)

(4) A: Why not go by/air? ‖

B: I can't afford it. ‖ (impatient)

(5) A: ︳How did it \ happen? ‖

B: I don't know. ‖ (reproach)

(6) A: ︳What is the ad \ dress? ‖

B: 6 Park Drive, ︱

Mountbay, ︱

Sussex. ‖ (listing)

(7) A: ︳This is °Mr \ Hunt. ‖

B: Pleased to \ meet you. ‖ (gladness)

(8) A: I've ︳lost my \ visa. ‖

B: You're silly then. ‖ (surly)


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