Changing Pitch While You Speak

Intonation, while not often talked about, is essential to communication and understanding when it comes to speaking to one another. Don’t know what it is? It’s the changes in the pitch, tone and speeds of our voices when we speak. Don’t known why that’s so important? Let me explain:

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Using these intonations while speaking can alter the way in which your listeners perceive what you’re saying; we all know that listening to somebody speak in a monotone voice is dreadfully boring, but how we use the subtle changes creates a very unique and specific difference. I should mention here the difference between intonation and inflection, commonly mistaken for one another, inflection is the changing of a word to represent the tense, mood, voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case, in English you use words such as ‘sing,’ ‘sang’ and ‘sung’ to represent the tenses, or in Spanish you use ‘perra’ or ‘perro’ to represent the gender of the dog, this is different from intonation as you are changing the word itself.

Take for example the obvious one here, when you ask a question, you raise the last syllable of the sentence, correct? You probably do it without thinking about it, but in fact we all use them to express meaning in what is being said, even with the same words you can say quite different things, here’s an example, try placing an emphasis on the words in bold:

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She said I kicked her dog?

She said I kicked her dog?

She said I kicked her dog?

She said I kicked her dog?

She said I kicked her dog?

She said I kicked her dog?

All of these sentences have the same words and structure yet when spoken with the emphasis on the highlighted words mean something completely different.

Some of you might have seen the movie Anchorman, I hope that all of you have; during the movie there is a scene where Ron Burgundy, the lead anchor for a news network, reads the teleprompter in which there’s a deliberate mistake included, rather unusually, Ron reads out the phrase “I’m Ron Burgundy?” It’s not common for a News presenter to ask the audience for his name, but that’s the fun of it.

Of course this wouldn’t be as fun if all languages were the same, and I hope you didn’t expect them to be, because they are not.

In German ‘Schön’ means great, and you say it lowering your pitch, whereas in Spanish the corresponding word is ‘Genial’ which happens to be said with a rising pitch. A falling pitch is used at the end of questions in the languages Hawaiian, Fijian,  Samoan, and Greenlandic, making them a stark difference to English.

 

Do you know any other examples of different languages using intonation in different ways? Can you make some weird sentences using intonation unexpectedly?

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