Intonation is the rising and falling pitch in one’s voice. If you’ve already looked at our sections on thought groups and word stress, then you’re already familiar with how intonation and stress are closely connected. If you’ve ever tried to mimic an English speaker’s intonation patterns and felt uncomfortable, it may be because the intonation patterns of your first language are either different and/or have a wider or lesser range. As one example, listen to the following question and decide if you hear rising or falling pitch at the end of the question:
While many learners may predict that all questions in English have a rising pitch, many questions actually have a falling pitch. In fact, if this same question were said with rising intonation, it’d sound like this:
You can probably detect the difference, but more importantly, the underlying intent of each question is different. The first question is typical of introductions; the speaker wants to know a person’s name. In the second question, the speaker probably misheard the name, or is surprised by the name in some way (e.g., the person’s name is Harry Potter). Therefore, learning the intonation of English is more than trying to sound like an English speaker; narrow or improper intonation can actually negatively impact the meaning of your message!
As with all pronunciation learning, it’s important that you are able to perceive the difference between rising and falling pitch. Listen to the following sentences and decide if each sentence ends in a rising or falling pitch. If you have already read the section on Thought Groups, then you’ll know that the end of each sentence has a “focus word;” this focus word will be the main starting point of rising or falling pitch. For additional help, listen to the kazoo version so that you aren’t distracted by the words.
|Could you submit this form by tomorrow morning?|
|I didn’t quite understand your question.|
|Where would you like to meet her?|
|Did they want to try it out now or later?|
|You misplaced the book?|
|Her points were well received.|
Now that you’re able to identify rising and falling pitch, learn about how intonation can express certainty or uncertainty, requests for more information or clarification, and show that you’re not finished speaking.