Teachers' blog


【Intonation 2】


(Contributed by Mike)

Intonation 2: great, great, great
In my last post, I talked about the pragmatic functions that intonation can have in a sentence. This time I’d like to talk about how intonation can change the meaning in a word.

If the title looks strange, that’s good! The word [great], when said with a different intonation, can have different meanings.

Before we start, we have to understand some basics. Most North American English is spoken at a middle pitch (音の高さ). When we ask question, the pitch becomes high. When we are excited, the pitch becomes very high. We use a low pitch at the end of most sentences.

So let’s look at the word great. When we use this word alone, and not part of a sentence, we can use intonation to give some extra meaning.

If we start the word [great] with a very high intonation, it has a meaning that I’m excited!

If we start the word [great] with a middle intonation, it has a meaning that say I’m not really excited or unexcited; it’s just something I’m saying because it’s a formality (形式的), or I’m not really listening.

If we start the word [great] with a low intonation, it has the opposite meaning! I don’t think it’s great, and I’m using this word sarcastically (皮肉を込めて).

For a good example of how intonation can change the meaning, watch this short comedy video by the Canadian comedy group The Kids in the Hall.

The man in the suit (Dave) does not have proper intonation (it’s a speech impediment, or 発話障害). The man in the sweater (Derek) doesn’t know that. The comedy comes Derek’s reaction to Dave, but in a different situation (for example, if this scene wasn’t part of a comedy show), this situation might even be scary!

Information from this post taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intonation_(linguistics), accessed on April 23rd 2015.

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