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Speech rhythm in British and American English



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I n t o n a t i o n   t o n e s   i n   E n g l i s h     Free trial page:     

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"Really!"


Interested:                       

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.                 


Not so interested:           

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.                 


Challenging:                   

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.                 


Surprised:                        

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.                 


Disbelieving:                   

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.                 


Contradictory:                 

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.   "Maybe"              


Disinterested:                 

          U.K.           

               

         U.S.A.               


Intonation is the music of the voice. As we speak, our voices are constantly changing from one pitch to another. Intonation often tells us more about the feelings and attitude of the speaker than the actual words they choose. Below, the wordreallyshows the different attitudes through the different tones used, even though the same word is used. The stressed syllable in a »tone group with the main pitch glide is called the nucleus, and below are the main nuclear tones of English. Listen and compare them with an American speaker who was asked to express the same emotions.


"This time the film was really good!"                          

          U.K.          

    

         U.S.A.       

(exclamation, lively interest, assertiveness) -The high fall tone is used here by both the British and American speakers. On the nucleus the voice starts on a very high pitch, then falls. The British speaker places the nucleus on 'really' and the American speaker on 'good.'


"This time the film was really good!"                          

          U.K.         

      

         U.S.A.       

(lack of interest, low spirits, boredom) - The low fall tone is used here by both the British and American speakers. On the nucleus the voice starts on quite a low pitch, then falls even lower. Again, the British speaker places the nucleus on 'really' and the American speaker on 'good.'


"This time it really wasn’t my fault."                            

          U.K.      

          

         U.S.A.    

(argumentative, defensive, denying responsibility) - The British speaker uses the rise fall tone for this. On the nucleus ‘really’ the voice starts on a low pitch, then rises, then falls again. The American speaker used the high fall tone when asked to express this and used two »tone groups, placing one nucleus on 'really' and another on 'fault'.


"Does his flight really get in at 6pm? I thought it  was 7."

          U.K.           

             

         U.S.A.            

(polite contradiction) –The British speaker uses the fall rise tone. On The word “really” the voice starts on a high pitch, then falls, then rises again. The American speaker used the high rise nuclear tone on the words “really” and “p.m.”


"Did you really like the film?"                                       

          U.K.       

        

         U.S.A.      

(casually surprised) -The high rise tone is used here by both the British and American speakers. On the nucleus “really” the voice starts on a high pitch, then rises even higher.


"Was Dave’s car really stolen?"                                  

          U.K.         

      

         U.S.A.    

(disbelieving, sympathetic) -The low rise tone is used here by both the British and American speakers. On the nucleus “really” the voice starts on a low pitch, then rises to a slightly higher pitch. The American speaker also uses a second nucleus on “stolen”.


"No, not really."                                                                

          U.K.       

        

         U.S.A.     

(disinterested, little/no emotion) - The British speaker uses the mid-level tone; the voice starts and finishes on the same level of pitch, showing no emotion. The American speaker used a low rise tone to express this; the voice starts on a low pitch and rises to a slightly higher pitch, showing little interest and lack of emotion.

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