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Intonational structure of the English language

It is fairly obvious that words are seldom pronounced by themselves, as vocabulary items. They are usually arranged into sentences in accordance with the grammatical and phonetic structures of the language. And, as we know, one of the components of the phonetic structure of a language is its intonation. Intonation is the main factor that turns a word a group of words into a sentence.

Intonation is defined differently by different phoneticians here and abroad. Most foreign linguists consider intonation as variation in voice pitch. For instance, L. Armstrong and I. Ward make it clear that: “By intonation we mean the rise and fall of the pitch of the voice when we speak”. The components of intonation all function together, they all inseparable form one another. Speech melody is one of the leading components of intonation. It is closely connected with sentence stress. Each intonation group may consist of the following sections: prehead, head, body, nucleus, tail. There are six main types of body:

1) regular descending;

2) broken descending;

3) low;

4) ascending;

5) sliding;

6) scandent.

There are eight main types of nuclear tones: high fall, low fall, low rise, high rise, fall-rise, rise-fall, rise-fall-rise, level.

The tail may be: descending, level or ascending. Sentence stress is one of the important component of the intonational structure. Sentence-stress is a special prominence which is given to one or more words so as to single them out from other words in the same intonation-group. Stress may be syntagmatic, syntactic and logical.

Syntagmatic stress is placed on the semantic centre of the sense-group which is the nucleus.

Syntactic stress singles out the other semantically important words of the sentence.

When the semantic centre is shifted from the last notional word of the sentence to sоmе other words we get logical stress.

Tempo, rhythm and pauses are considered to be temporal (преходящий) components of intonation.

Tempo is the rate, or duration of speech. It may be slow, formal or quick. Through tempo we appreciate the relative impor­tance of sentences and their sense-groups. The more important parts of a sentence are pronounced at a slow tempo, the less important ones are said quickly.

Tempo is closely connected with rhythm. Our speech is subdivided rhythmically into unites. Speech rhythm may be defined as a regular recurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables. Rhythmic characteristics of speech have been looked into by people for a long time.

Rhythm is closely connected with stress. Sense-groups in English are divided into rhythmical groups. Each rhythmical group consists of a stressed syllable alone, or combined with one or more unstressed syllables attached to it.

Pauses are closely connected with other components of intona­tion. Between intonation-group there mаy be pauses of different lengths. At the end of a sentence the pause is long. It is indicated by a double vertical bar. A pause between clauses is short, it is indicated with a large vertical bar.

There is a non-obligatory pause between parts of the sentence. It is a very short one and is indicated with a wavy vertical line.

The last component of intonation is voice-tamber, or voice quality. It is a common knowledge that sentences may be pronounced with different voice colouring expressing all shades of emotions, such as joy, happiness, sadness, irony, indifference, indignation, hostility, and many others. Voice-tamber is connected with the pitch of the voice and the tempo of speech.

We do not know anything about the physical nature of this phenomenon, because the voice-tamber component has not been investigated at all.

All the components of intonation exist and develop together. English intonation as a whole carries important information and like all other phonetic phenomena (phoneme, syllable, accent) intonation also fulfils three main functions: constitutive, distinctive, recognitive.

The constitutive function of intonation consistsin the fact that:

1) each syllable ofeach section of an intonation-group has
a certain pitch and cannot exist without it;

2) the end of an intonation-group is marked by a change of
pitch direction or pitch level. (This constitutive function is often called sentence-delimiting function.);

3) each intonation-group must have at least one prominent word which is pronounced with sentence-stress;

4) an intonation-group cannot exist without the temporal component either, because eachintonation-groupispronounced at a certain tempo, it has its own rhythm, the end of an intonation-group is indicated by a pause, etc.

All this proves that intonation (or rather all its components) fulfill the constitutive function. No sentence can existwithout intonation. (intonation is present in any written sentence as well.)

The most important is the distinctive function of intonation which manifests itself in the fact that intonation as a whole is capable of differentiating one sense-group or sentence from another sense-group or sentence. The role of different components of intonation in differentiating sentences is not of equal importance, though. Some components play the leading role, while others play a subsidiary role.

The distinctive function of intonation is most vividly ob­served in phonological oppositions. The number of phonological oppositions is quite considerable. According different intontional components sentence may sound categorical and non-categorical, emphatic and unemphatic, as a statement or general question, a statement or exclamation etc.

The third function of intonation is its recognitive function. It consists in the use of the right intonation pattern in the sentence.

Nowadays there are exist two principal methods of indicating intonation: in the line of text and outside the line of text. In both methods only its pitch and force components can be indicated.

The method of indicating intonation outside of text is represented by the well-known system of tonograms. Two horizontal lines show graphically the upper and the lower limits of the human voice pitch. Different signs are used between the lines to indicate the stressed and unstressed syllables.

L. E. Armstrong and I. C. Ward introduced the system of lines (now called dashes) corresponding to stressed syllables, and dots corresponding to unstressed ones. Downward curves represent falling tones, upward curves represent rising tones. This system was introduced in 1925 and its ling existence has proved it to be both easy and useful.

Another group of linguists used large and small dots for stressed and unstressed syllables. Large dots with tail-like curves indicated falling and rising tones depending on the direction of the curve.

Rodger Kingdon used wedge-like signs for stressed syllables and small dots for unstressed ones.

Worth mentioning is the music notation system which is used when it is necessary to show the exact stress-pattern or uneven rhythms.

The system of indicating intonation outside the line of text is rather valuable because the intonation may be shown on the staves with great accuracy. But we must admit that it is very difficult to see both the tonogram and the text at first glance.

Intonation may also be shown in the line of text itself which may be written either in phonetic transcription or in orthographic spelling. Several systems are distinguished here too:

H. E. Palmer’s system was widely spread and used most commonly in our country until recently. He distinguished the following kinds of nuclear tones:

1) falling nucleus;

2) rising nucleus;

3) falling nucleus with intensification;

4) falling-rising nucleus.

The syllables preceding the nucleus are marked thus:

1) superior head;

2) scandent head;

3) inferior head.

R. Kingdon has introduced the so-called “tonetic stress-mark system”, which indicates speech melody as well as sentence-stress.

R. Kingdon’s “tonetic stress-mark system” has the great advantage of indicating intonation in printed texts. Such texts can be written quickly and with no difficulty whatever.

American descriptivist indicate intonation in the line of text with the so-called ‘stair-steps’ which are based on Kenneth L. Pike’s system.

Pike distinguishes 4 levels of speech melody: low, mid (normal), high and extra high.

In the USA it is the only system in indicating intonation in printed text and it is considered there to be the most teachable because of its clarity and simplicity. It is really quite easy to read but the

Process of drawing the stair-steps is rather slow and laborious. That’ why American system hasn’t been adopted in our country. So for indicating intonation in the line of text the most widely used are the British intonation system and Kingdon’s “tonetic stress-mark system”. For indicating intonation outside the line of text the most widely used is L. E. Armstrong and I. C. Ward’ system of staves.



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