In previous issues of POSTSCRIPT, we have looked at the pronunciation
of individual sounds and at word
and sentence stress. The most noticeable feature of a foreign
language, however, is often intonation and rhythm. Some languages
are described as sounding "like music", other languages as being "flat
and without melody". If the pronunciation of individual sounds
can be compared with the individual notes in a piece of music,
the intonation can be compared with the melody or tune.
All languages have their own intonation patterns. Why is intonation
important? Intonation conveys both meaning and attitude, so when
a non-native speaker gets the intonation wrong, s/he can be misunderstood
or sometimes misinterpreted as sounding rude or demanding when
this is not intended.
If a non-native speaker is almost fluent in the English language,
intonation is often the only way in which one can tell that s/he
is foreign. Moreover, if a foreign speaker is advanced in terms
of grammar, vocabulary, etc., native speakers will make fewer
allowances for intonation problems than they would with speakers
who are obviously at a more elementary level. For example, if
an advanced level speaker unintentionally sounds rude or demanding,
the listeners will assume that s/he means it.
What can we do to improve intonation?
Listen to as much spoken English as possible (on cassette if
you are unable to listen to native speakers) and be aware of
where the voice rises and falls. When you listen, try to consider
the attitude and feelings being conveyed. One word, for example,
can be said in several different ways, depending on the meaning
you wish to convey.
Are there any rules?
Yes, there are some. For example, most open
questions (those beginning with "when", "where", "who", "which", "what", "why" and "how" end
with a fall and most closed questions (those requiring a "yes" or "no" answer)
end with a rise.
|Where does he come from?
|Do you live in Germany?