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Intonation and Prosody


1. The Prosodic system of a language and its unites:

• the syllable

• the rhythmic unit

• the intonation group

• the utterance

2. The prosodic subsystem of a language:

• pitch

• utterance stress

• rhythm

• tempo

• pauses

3. The functional aspect of prosody with reference to its functions performed in speech:

• constitutive

• distinctive

• identificatory (recognitive)


Intonation is defined as a complex unity of speech melody, sentence stress, tempo, rhythm and voice timbre, which enables the speaker to express his thoughts, emotions and attitudes towards the content of the utterance and the hearer. Speech melody, sentence stress, tempo, rhythm and timbre are all components of intonation. Phoneticians abroad define intonation as the variation of the pitch of the voice, thus reducing it to one component – speech melody. This is a narrow approach to the definition of intonation.

The notion of prosody is broader than the notion of intonation as it can be applied to the utterance, the word, the syllable.

The syllable is widely recognized to be the smallest prosodic unit. A rhythmic, or accentual, unit (group) is either one stressed syllable or a stressed syllable with a number of unstressed ones grouped around it. The intonation group is hierarchically higher than the rhythmic unit. Structurally the intonation group has some obligatory formal characteristics. These are the nuclear stress on the semantically most important word and the terminal tone. The boundaries between intonation groups are marked by tonal junctures and pauses. The structure of the intonation group varies depending on the number of syllables and rhythmic units in it.

A higher unit in which prosodic features are actualized is the utterance. The utterance is the main communicative unit. It is characterized by semantic entity which is expressed by all the language means. The prosodic structure of an utterance is a meaningful unit that contributes to the total meaning of this utterance.

Pitch, one of the prosodic subsystems, or speech melody is the variations in the pitch of the voice which take place with voiced sounds. To describe the melody of an utterance it is necessary to determine the relevant pitch levels, pitch ranges, directions and rate of pitch movement in the terminal zone and pre-terminal part of each of its intonation groups.

Words grouped into an utterance are not all equally important. Depending on the context or the communication situation some words appear to contribute more information than others. Those that are semantically more important are made prominent. The special prominence given to one or more words in an utterance is called utterance stress. The means, with the help of which the special prominence is achieved and the effect of stress is produced, are variations of pitch, loudness, length and quality.

English is considered to be mostly a language with stress-timed rhythm. Stress-timed rhythm presupposes that utterance stress serves as a basis for the rhythmic organization of speech and that stresses segment the speech continuum into units of more or less equal length.

The tempo of speech is the rate at which utterances and their smaller units are pronounced. Phoneticians generally distinguish normal tempo and two departures from the norm: fast and slow.

The speech continuum is divided into units of different length and hierarchy by means of pauses. It is the main function of a pause to segment connected speech into utterances and intonation groups to delimit one utterance or intonation group from another. Phoneticians distinguish three main types of pauses: silent pauses, pauses of perception and voiced (or filled) pauses.


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