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Rhythm and Speech Melody


1. Pitch levels, pitch ranges, rate of pitch movement.

2. The terminal tone of an utterance.

3. The structure of an intonation group.

4. Rhythm


The pitch level of the utterance (or the intonation group) is determined by the pitch of its highest-pitched syllable. It shows the degree of semantic importance in comparison with any other utterance, and also conveys the speaker’s attitudes and emotions. In unemphatic speech most phoneticians distinguish three pitch levels: low, mid and high.

The pitch range of an utterance is the interval between its highest-pitched syllable and its lowest-pitched syllable. According to circumstances the speaker changes his voice range. It may be widened and narrowed to express emphasis or the speaker’s attitudes and emotions.

The rate of pitch variations may be different depending on the time during which these variations take place, and on the range of the variations. Differences in the rate of pitch variations are semantically important. When the rate of the fall is fast, the falling tone sounds more categoric and definite than when the rate of the fall is slow.

The most important from the functional point of view is the terminal tone of an utterance. The peculiarity of the terminal tone in English is that it may occur not only on the “nucleus” but may be extended to the tail. The pitch of the tail depends on the kind of a terminal tone. It conveys certain meanings of its own which make the whole utterance more concrete and precise. The meanings of the falling tone are definiteness, incompleteness, non-finality, uncertainty, tentativeness. The falling-rising tone carries the meaning of reservation, implication, contrast.

The elements of the intonation group are the prehead, the head, the nucleus and the tail. The prehead is normally pronounced on the low or mid pitch level. The head is viewed as one melodic shape, one part of the pitch contour of the utterance. It acts as a unit independent of the nucleus. The functions of the head are to express relations between its constituent units. The fallowing types of head are distinguished: the gradually descending head, the broken descending head, the low level head, the high level head, the ascending head, the scandent head, the sliding head. The functional analysis of speech melody shows that the leading role in differentiating communicative types of utterances belongs to the terminal tone. That is why the communicative-distinctive function of speech melody is widely recognized. The distinctive function of intonation also manifests itself in other particular functions, e.g. the modal-stylistic (attitudinal) function.

Rhythm has been defined as regularity or periodicity in the occurrence of a particular phenomenon in an utterance. In some languages the recurring phenomena are stressed, in others – syllables. English is considered to be mostly a language with stressed-timed rhythm. The stressed syllable is the nucleus of the rhythmic unit. There are as many rhythmic units in an utterance as there are stressed syllables in it. The unstressed syllables are clitics. Those preceding the stressed syllable are called proclitics, and those following it – enclitics. Depending on the position of the stressed syllable and the number of proclitics and enclitics in the rhythmic group there exist various accentual - and – rhythmic patterns of it. The rhythmic group is also characterized by a pitch pattern and duration pattern. These prosodic characteristics make it possible to perceive the rhythmic unit as an actual discrete unit of prosody.


Лекция 5


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