Intonation (linguistics)

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In linguistics, intonation describes various characteristics of prosody . In phonetics , intonation is understood to mean the perceived temporal course of the pitch within a word ( word melody ), a sentence (sentence melody) or a completed speech act (in the sense of a speech melody).

Intonation of a restrictive relative clause

Differentiation according to focus

When speaking of speech melody, the focus is on intonation as a linguistic property. When one speaks of sentence melody, the pitch of a sentence is meant as a dialogue segment. The voice guidance emphasizes that people can consciously control the prosodic properties of language.

Linguistic definition

Bussmann defines intonation in the Lexicon of Linguistics as follows:

Intonation (from Latin. Intonare , sing 'to lat. Tonare , thunder')

1. In a broader sense: the entirety of the prosodic properties of spoken language utterances (syllables, words, phrases) that are not tied to a single sound (this definition is similar to the definition of prosody ). The intonation is based on the interaction of:

  • Accent (also: stress) due to increased pressure (sound intensity or loudness) on a syllable.
  • Pitch gradient
  • Break structure, which, however, can hardly be grasped independently of accent and pitch progression.

This definition shows the often synchronous occurrence of prosodic properties of language.

2. In the narrower sense (especially in Slavic studies ): phenomena of the pitch course related to morphologically defined units (syllables, words).

Microprosody and macroprosody

In phonetics, a distinction is often made between microprosody and macroprosody. In this context, microprosody is understood to mean changes in the fundamental frequency curve that the speaker does not control intentionally. Such changes may be due to the anatomy of the vocal tract; For example, it is known that different vowels have an intrinsic pitch depending on the articulatory configuration that produces them.

Macro prosody is understood to mean changes in the fundamental frequency curve that the speaker can control and thus produce more or less consciously. Such changes are linguistically more important. Many approaches in intonation research - such as that of Johan 't Hart et al. IPO model developed or the tone sequence model developed by Janet Pierrehumbert - are based on a finite number of intonational structures within a language, comparable to the phonemes that are also used by the speaker following certain rules.

In relation to an investigation of the meaning of intonation contours - such as a possible differentiation between "question contours", "calling contours" and the like - the preoccupation with macroprosody is of primary importance.

Types of intonation

In principle, different characteristics of intonation progressions can be determined: globally falling, rising, constant, falling-rising and rising-falling. "Rising intonation" means that the pitch of the voice rises, "falling intonation" means that it falls. In many European languages, the falling intonation goes hand in hand with the end of the speech unit, while the rising intonation signals something that has not yet been concluded (questions, reinsurance, etc.) or increased relevance. In addition to the height of the tone, its length can also be important. The tone durations of a language are classified as chronemes .

Function of intonation

Some languages ​​use intonation syntactically , for example to express surprise or irony and to distinguish question and answer sentences from one another. These languages ​​include German and English (“Oh, really?”). In other languages, changing the pitch changes the meaning of individual words or sentences.

Languages ​​in which syllables are differentiated according to pitch are called tonal languages . A distinction is made between languages ​​in which the fundamental frequency curve on the syllable is important, the so-called contour tone languages, and languages ​​in which only one of several pitches is decisive, the so-called register tone languages . The former include Chinese , Lao, and Thai , for example . Hausa is given as an example of the latter . Languages ​​with a dynamic-melodic accent , such as Swedish , Serbo-Croatian or the Ripuarian dialects of German and Limburgish, occupy an intermediate position between tonal languages ​​and accented languages . In some languages, such as the West African languages Twi and Bini , the pitch has a grammatical rather than a lexical function. In these languages, a different tense is indicated by high and low tones .


In an intonational context, declination means the fundamental drop in the fundamental frequency.

The intonation is characterized by a movement of the fundamental frequency between the upper and lower limit frequency. However, appropriate subglottal pressure is necessary for phonation. Since continuously exhaling when speaking is continuous, the subglottal pressure decreases over time. Therefore, the two cut-off frequencies decrease with increasing speaking time.

Linguistic models of intonation

Intonation can be modeled in a number of ways. Phonological phenomena are described, which can be found in the basic frequency contour (the counterpart to the pitch curve in signal processing) of a speech pattern. Mostly, accents (peaks and valleys), boundary slopes and intonation resets ( pitch resets ) are modeled . Accents can be described at the syllable, word, phrase and sentence level. In addition, other prosodic properties such as pause times and speech speeds are also taken into account in some models.

Examples of intonation models:

See also


  • Stefan Baumann, Martine Grice, Ralf Benzmueller: GToBI. A Phonological System For The Transcription Of German Intonation. In: Stanisław Puppel (Ed.): Prosody 2000. Speech Recognition and Synthesis. 2 - 5 October 2000, Kraków, Poland. Uniwersytet Im. Adama Mickiewicza, Poznań 2001, ISBN 83-87314-26-9 , pp. 21-28.
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics . 3rd updated and expanded edition. Alfred Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 .
  • Klaus J. Kohler: The Kiel Intonation Model (KIM), its Implementation in TTS Synthesis and its Application to the Study of Spontaneous Speech. Website, 1991. KIM .
  • D. Robert Ladd: Intonational Phonology. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 2008, ISBN 978-0-521-86117-5 ( Cambridge studies in linguistics 119).
  • Bernd Möbius: A quantitative model of German intonation. Analysis and synthesis of fundamental frequency curves. Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1993, ISBN 3-484-30305-0 ( Linguistic work 305), (At the same time: Bonn, Univ., Diss., 1992).
  • Janet Breckenridge Pierrehumbert: The Phonology and Phonetics of English Intonation. Indiana University Linguistics Club, Bloomington IN 1987 (Also: Cambridge MA, Harvard Univ., Diss., 1980).
  • Kim Silverman, Mary Beckman, John Pitrelli, Mori Ostendorf, Colin Wightman, Patti Price, Janet Pierrehumbert, Julia Hirschberg: TOBI. A Standard For Labeling English Prosody. In: ICSLP 92 proceedings. International Conference on Spoken Language Processing, October 12-16, 1992, International Conference Center, Banff, Alberta, Canada. Volume 2. University of Alberta, Edmonton 1992, ISBN 0-88864-806-5 , pp. 867-870, online (PDF; 419 kB) .
  • Paul Alexander Taylor: A Phonetic Model of the English Intonation. Indiana University Linguistics Club, Bloomington IN 1994 (Revised version. Edinburgh, University, Phil. Diss., 1992).
  • Paul Taylor: The rise / fall / connecting model of intonation. In: Speech Communication. 15, 1994, ISSN  0167-6393 , pp. 169-186.

Web links

Wiktionary: Intonation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Single receipts

  1. Bernd Pompino-Marschall: Introduction to Phonetics , 2nd ed. De Gruyter, Berlin 2003, p. 42.
  2. ^ Johan 't Hart et al .: A perceptual study of intonation. An experimental-phonetic approach to speech melody. Cambridge University Press, New York a. a. 1990.
  3. Dr. Johannes Schwitalla: Spoken German. An introduction . In: Basics of German Studies . 3. Edition. tape 33 . Erich Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 2006.
  4. Bernd Pompino-Marschall: Introduction to Phonetics . 3. Edition. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 2003, ISBN 978-3-11-022480-1 , p. 246 ff .
  5. ^ The phonology and phonetics of English intonation. (PDF; 2.9 MB), PhD thesis,
  7. IMS  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Univ. Stuttgart (PDF; 203 kB); engl. Fujisaki's intonation model@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  8. ^ H. Fujisaki, In Vocal Physiology: Voice Production, Mechanisms and Functions, Raven Press, 1988.
  9. ^ Paul A. Taylor, The rise / fall / connection model of intonation. Speech Communication, 15: 169-186, 1995 (PDF; 125 kB)