Unit 15 Functions & Uses of English Intonation

Unit 15 Functions & Uses of English
Xu Dehua
Functions and Uses of English
 Intonation and stress work together to express
meaning. Intonation makes it easier for a
listener to understand what a speaker is trying
to convey. The following are often cited as
important functions of English intonation:
a. the attitudinal function;
b. the accentual function;
 c. the grammatical function;
 d. the discourse function of intonation.
The attitudinal function
 Intonation is used to convey our feelings and
attitudes. For instance, the same sentence can be said
in different ways, to express happiness, gratitude,
anger, boredom, etc. Usually, intonation units with
high heads sound more lively and interesting than
those with low heads. A few generalizations can be
made here: the falling intonation is said to be more
often associated with completeness and uncertainty
or questioning; the falling-rising is said to be
associated with feeling of hesitation, contrast,
reservation or doubt.
The accentual function
 The location of the tonic syllable is of
considerable linguistic importance. The most
common position for this is on the last
information word of the intonation unit. For
contrastive purposes, however, any word may
bear the tonic syllable.
The grammatical function
 Some sentences may be ambiguous when
written, but this can be removed by the use of
intonation. An often cited example is the
sentence “Those who sold quickly made a
profit”. This sentence can be said at least two
different ways:
a. / `Those who `sold
quickly/`made a
b. / `Those who
sold / `quickly `made
English speakers hear two different paraphrases of
the sentences because of the different placement of
the tone-unit boundary, as in:
a. A profit was made by those who sold quickly.
b. A profit was quickly made by those who sold.
The discourse function of intonation
 In speech, people often use intonation to focus the
listener’s attention on aspects of the message that are
most important. So the placement of uncleus or tonic
stress depends on the “information content”: the
more predictable a word’s occurrence is in a given
context, the lower its information content is. For
example, people would say:
telephone’s ringing.
kettle’s boiling.
In speech, people often use the falling tone
to indicate new information and rising tone
( including falling-rising) to indicate “shared”
of “given” information.
People also use intonation to indicate to
others that they have finished speaking and
that another person is expected to speak.
Combined Tunes
In reading and speaking, one sentence may
consist of one or more tunes. Some tunes are often
combined. Many combinations are possible . The
following are six common patterns:
I. Fall + Fall
1. It’s a fine day, isn’t it?
2. I went to the bookstore and bought a new
3. It’s a long time since I saw you last.
 4. We arrived late, which was a serious
 5. I tried to work faster, but I just couldn’t
catch up with him.
II. Fall + Rise
 1. You’ve been to Beijing, haven’t you?
 2. It’s a good book, on the whole.
 3. Come at 8:30 if you can.
III. Rise + Fall
 1. Are you from the south or from the north?
 2. At ten in the morning, the parade began.
 3. If we work harder, we shall be able to fulfil the
plan ahead of time.
 4. One, two, three, four, five.
 5. I hope there will be some poems and plays.
 6. This is the man I saw yesterday.
 7. I must be off now, for my family is expecting
IV. Rise + Rise
 1. Do you know Dr. Liu, the famous surgeon?
 2. In that case, is it possible for us to meet
next week?
 3. If he is free, will you please ask him to
come to the meeting?
 4. Have you met my daughter, who has just
returned from America?
V. Fall + Fall-rise
I can’t do it just at the moment.
I will if you can.
It costs more, but it’s very useful.
VI. Fall-rise + Fall
Taken as a whole, the results aren’t bad.
1. The more I thought about it, the less I liked it.
2. These are mine, and those are yours.
VII. Fall-rise + Rise
1. It costs more, doesn’t it?
2. You will never succeed unless you try harder.