Falling intonation on focus words in thought groups is used to express that a speaker has finished a thought, or that the speaker is certain. Listen to Owen’s speech in the following dialogue:
Rita: It looks like I have some time tomorrow. When are you available to meet?
Owen: I’m free anytime this week.
Rita: Great. How about tomorrow at noon?
Owen: That works for me. I’ll see you at the office then.
On the other hand, a rising pitch at the end of the phrase conveys uncertainty, surprise, or a desire for confirmation. For example:
Blair: It looks like Krithi’s not here anymore.
Geon: Krithi already left?
In the example above, Geon is surprised that Krithi already left. The context of the situation can help inform the listener what the speaker’s underlying reaction is.
In the following phrases, decide if the speaker is certain or uncertain. As you listen, see if you can identify the focus word (i.e., the word at or near the end of the phrase that has the main change in pitch).
|1. They told me to come yesterday|
|2. The reports are due next Monday|
|3. Simon failed his test|
|4. Angel prefers coffee over tea|
|5. Our company plans to expand|
|6. You need to give it to her|
|7. Wednesday is Julie’s birthday|
|8. Yuki accepted a job in Alaska|
|9. My cousin adopted two kittens yesterday|
|10. The PATH train was delayed for an hour this morning|
What do you do now?
First, while recording yourself on your mobile device, practice pronouncing the above phrases by alternating between certainty (falling pitch) and uncertainty (rising pitch). Listen to your recordings to ensure that the pitch matches the original recordings above.
Second, come see a speech consultant to practice certainty and uncertainty. You can bring new sentences you’ve created, or write down examples you’ve read or heard. After showing the focus word for each phrase, you can ask the speech consultant to help monitor the naturalness and accuracy of your pitch range.