English Melodics Beyond Basic Tones

  1. In The Recognition of English Tones at Section 8.3 on this website five of them were categorised as the most basic ones. The names used for these there were Alt, Climb, Fall, Rise and Slump. With [m] standing for any syllable, the traditional corresponding signs used for them are / ˈm, ˊm, `m, ˏm/ and /ˎm/. That discussion was aimed at intermediate students of EAL (English as an Additional Language). What now follows is offered to well advanced students, teachers and anyone who might have an interest in the subject of English "intonation", a term which has become so loosely used that it had better be made clear at once that here it is not being employed to deal with prosody in general but essentially only with tones, a topic that is perhaps better, as in our title, less ambiguously labelled as "melodics".
  2. It's not easy to find a definition of the term "tone" in any work on English prosody, probably partly because no suggestion is likely to receive a general welcome, but it seems desirable to propose one, even tho whether it's felt to be satisfactory or not will be dependent on certain postulations not fully acceptable to all. Anyway, we offer this: A tone is a pitch feature of a syllable which causes it to stand out from its surroundings. Speakers may accord tones to syllables for more than one reason. The most important reason is in order to accent a word or a particular syllable of a word, that is to draw attention to it purposely in order to signal its importance to the speaker's meaning. However, besides this desire for accentuation of a word etc, on many occasions a speaker may accord a tone to a syllable only in order to produce a general effect of animation: since speakers dont feel happy with and thus avoid long sequences of low pitches because they tend to sound dispirited, they may raise a syllable to a high/prominent value for no other reason than such avoidance. Thirdly, speakers may use tones simply to be able to effect an instinctively agreeable or satisfying rhythmicality. Of course, if a speaker makes a single-syllable utterance, it's self-evident that, having no surrounding context, that syllable automatically has prominence.
  3. A brief summary of some of the kind of terminology traditional in British EAL-oriented writings on melodics is as follows. In units consisting of a single tone along with one or more non-prominent syllables, any that precede the tone are usually referred to (collectively if more than one) by the ground-breaking coinage "prehead" (Kingdon's Groundwork of English Intonation 1958 p.12), which seems little recognised for its significant advance on the influential but seriously flawed pioneering analysis of Palmer 1922 (English Intonation). Any unstressed syllables that follow an isolate tone are usually designated by Palmer's term "tail" (p. vii). The most widely employed British term for the climactic tone of a unit is Palmer's expression "nucleus" (ibid) but, melodic patterns being linear, the term "climax" seems more apt than that radial metaphor. The part of a melodic unit having one or more other tones which precede the climax tone is usually called its "head". Any unstressed syllables following head tones may conveniently be described as tails to those tones, as are the unstressed syllables which follow a climax tone. To define a climax tone formally we may say that "Its climax tone is the pitch configuration associated with the final accented syllable of an intonation unit".
  4. Many writers, including recently Wells (2006), have adopted Kingdon's procedure of recognising what he called "high", meaning high level, "preheads". His moving preheads by contrast have had few if any adherents. These two types of "special preheads", as Kingdon termed them (ibid. p.47), were designated as not bearing tones. The problems produced by this procedure suggest that it's more satisfactory to reserve the term "prehead" only for low level syllables and to view these other items as in fact containing tones. Examples of such accent/non-accent ambiguity include the first words of sentences like ˈWhat ˎtime is it?, ˈLook ˏout, ˈI ˏsee, ˈDon't ˏworry and ˈIs ˏthat it? These types were rather disconcertingly represented in different places in O&A (O'Connor-&-Arnold's Intonation of Colloquial English 1961,1973) as variously beginning with heads and "high preheads". These so-called "special preheads" seem to be best regarded as not accenting specific words but as producing "utterance intensification" or as "utterance emphasising", terms first used at pp 66 & 77 of my out-of-print thirty-page 1971 article on O&A. Such tones I have termed examples of "animation stresses". A brief note on such types of tones may be seen at Section 8.2 on this website. Examples are: `-It's a PS (ie People Speaking, see §14 below) #15 line 3. `-You know PS #20 line 1. ˈShall we  line 4 and ˈThe ˎDales line 11, both PS #17.  A comment comparable to the above is to be found at Wells 2006 page 215 where we find "using a high prehead adds emphasis to the whole [intonation phrase]". The notation with special "high prehead" sign [-] eg -I was ˈvery... etc strikes one as a distinction from ˈI was ˈvery... etc not worth making. It's certainly not confidently audible.
  5. Tones are of two primary types: level and moving. It's usual to classify level tones in terms of the ranges High, Mid and Low in regard to speakers' voices and I find it convenient to refer to the level tones at these three ranges as respectively Alt /ӕlt/, Mid and Bass /beɪs/. The first of these is by a very long way the commonest. The Bass and, even more so, the Mid are of quite rare occurrence: hence their classification here as non-basic tones. Signs for these three are convenient as /ˈm, -m/ and /ˌm/. The more one deals with the English tones the more it becomes inconvenient not to give them monosyllabic names. Therefore the most frequently occurring moving tones will here be called Climb for an ascending tone from Mid to High range (ˊ́m), Drop for a descent from High to Mid (`-m), Fall for a descent from High to Low (`m), Slump for a descent from Mid to Low (ˎm), and Rise for an ascent from Low to Mid (ˏm). It must be realised that these last five terms are shorthand expressions. In order to specify moving tones with some precision we shall need on some occasions to convey explicitly both their initial and their final pitches. Thus in more ponderous but more precise terminology the terms for these five moving tones can be expanded to Mid-Alt, Fall-Mid, Fall-Bass, Mid-Bass and Bass-Mid. As far as possible one avoids using such expressions for ordinary purposes especially in discussing particular English intonations in EAL contexts. In attempting to expound what actually happens in native-speaker performance such simplicity is not feasible. Anyone who looks at my People Speaking (1977, 1979) may see that the transcriptions employed at this website Section are much as those of its Section Three but simplified by somewhat limiting specifications of tonal range (with consequential modifying of the nomenclature) and by omitting the representations of purely rhythmic features.
  6. To discuss satisfactorily the semantic values of tones it's essential to go somewhat beyond the inadequate, imprecise framework provided by the limited range of pitch-pattern distinctions that are ordinarily recognised in EAL etc literature on the subject. For example the traditional approaches exemplified best by, and indeed based on, the broad notations developed by Kingdon account in the main for only two types of simple rising and falling tones. This was no problem in the context of the very limited extent to which Kingdon elected to comment on tone meanings. O&A, on the contrary, had dozens of pages of semantic observations which met with a good deal of criticism. These authors were ultimately not disposed to re-issue the work mentioned, more on account of such problems, one imagines, than anything else, tho they both lived another quarter of a century.
  7. The semantic values of individual tones are so elemental that the English language hardly provides broad enough expressions to convey them suitably. However, we shall attempt some descriptions of them. Initial capitalisation is not used when terms for pitch values are being employed generically: for example "fall-rise" is to be taken to cover any degree of movement in either direction but Fall-Rise in our terminology is shorthand for fall from high to low plus rise from low to middle height (alternatively Fall-Bass plus Bass-Mid). The Alt has by virtue of its high pitch a definite degree of animation: it often seems to be a speaker's choice for counteracting any suggestion of low spirits as much as or more than for accentuation of the word which carries it. Its connotation one might call "suspensive" if it occurs before a break in a speaker's delivery. When, as happens only quite rarely, it occurs as a desired climax tone rather than an involuntary cessation of speaking, it connotes animation but neutrality in respect of emotiveness. The norm of speech is, one can reasonably say, moderate cheerfulness. The Bass and the Mid are similarly unemotive and rarely occur as climax tones. It should be noted that a level tone's lack of emotive character may reflect suppression of display of emotion rather than its absence.
  8. The Fall-Alt descends from a higher point within the Alt range to a (perforce slightly) lower point still within that range (signed `ˈm). The Fall-Mid descends from a point within the Alt range to one within the Mid range (signed `-m). The Fall-Bass descends from a point within the Alt range to one within the Bass range (signed `m). Thus the first two of these are variants subsumed under the shorthand term Drop while the other has the usual meaning of the term Fall. The fully descending tones Fall and Slump both connote finality: they differ solely in that the high beginning and consequent extra movement of the Fall gives it positive animation which the Slump of course lacks. The complex tones Climb-Fall /ˊˋm/and Rise-Slump /ˏˎm/ by containing extra movement have extra animation and/or emotiveness which in the case of the latter doesnt necessarily connote cheerfulness but simply intensity of reaction to a situation. It's not fortuitous that the term "emotion" has its origin in a metaphor for movement: the stronger the emotion a speaker is expressing the more likely are the tones employed to be of wide movement. The Drop type has the animation of the Fall but cuts off short of signalling finality. O'Connor 1970 (Le Maître Phonétique 133:15) said "there is an allotone of the Fall-Rise which is a fall to a medium pitch". Whether or not one wishes to express the fact in those words, it's certainly true that the effect of the prevention of the finality of falling to bottom pitch of the Drop and the immediate taking back of the expression of finality of the F-R complex tone have much the same ultimate semantic effect. The Fall-Alt type of Drop, being nearer in effect to the Alt, has less animation and/or emotiveness than the Fall-Mid type. Occurrences of Drops are so frequent that one hesitates whether to categorise it as a "basic" tone. Surprisingly the pedagogical literature contains little recognition of it. Kingdon concerned himself so little with it that it wasn't even mentioned in his main text but figured only in his quasi appendix on Comparative Tonetics (ibid pp 261/2). It was one of the simplifications of O&A to include it only in heads to Fall-Rise climaxes, indicating it with the raised "northeast" arrow [] employed previously to show Drops in Jassem 1952 which, by contrast, had various examples of it as an independent tone (ibid pp 74/5). Jassem was the second chief influence on O&A (after Kingdon), the O&A title even seemingly having followed the slightly unusual grammatical form of Jassem's name for his valuable book!
  9. The tones beginning in the Bass range are the Rise-Bass (ˏˌm) which has so narrow an ascent that it remains within the Bass range, the Rise-Mid (ˏm), which is what the shorthand term Rise connotes, and the Rise-Alt (ˏˈm) which becomes a very wide movement in extending into the Alt range and thereby being maximally animated/emotive. Where a second impulse of stress occurs in the course of such a wide rising movement we may classify it as a Rise-Climb. The classic example of this is the R-C on which the famous actress Edith Evans in her recording of the part of Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest sez the word handbag.  The Rise-Bass is the direct opposite of that. It's less positively continuative than the ordinary Rise and minimally emotion-displaying so that it often correlates with types of expression exhibiting indifference. The Climb (  ́m ) moves from the Mid into the Alt range and is thereby less animated or emotive than the fairly infrequent Rise-Alt. The Slump ( ˎm ) moves from the Mid range into the Bass range and is consequently so lacking in animation/emotiveness that it is  much less used in a one-word unit than the Fall. The Slump-Bass /ˎˌm/ begins in the Bass range and, by remaining in it, is even less animated/emotive than the Slump than which it is also less common.
  10. The most recent work with similar aims to O&A, Wells 2006, is more circumspect on "tone meanings". The initial pages devoted explicitly to that topic (87 to 92) are mainly about ideas attributed to Brazil and Gussenhoven. The terms "proclaiming" and "referring" are there opined to provide a "useful generalisation" and to have been "devised by the late David Brazil". (That dichotomy was in fact taken over by Brazil from Jassem 1952 Intonation of Colloquial English where the precise original terms employed at its page 70 were "proclamatory" and "evocative". This was acknowledged in Brazil 1975 but not in his later work. See Section 12.7 on this website for references etc.) The subsequent Wells comments on tone meanings are of moderate extent.
  11. In our transcriptions of intonations at People Speaking, Section 4.1 on this website, where a new intonation sub-unit occurs within a sentence, the vertical modulation bar "|" is used to signal the partial discontinuity produced. This bar is not used in the PS transcriptions where the form of a previous tone or a mark of punctuation is taken to make it superfluous. Unmarked syllables after such a bar are preheads. Sequences of upper tones may be expected to descend; those of low tones to ascend at least slightly. Heads need not consist only of repetitions of the same tone (contrary to what might be presumed from O&A etc). Our transcriptions include all normal punctuation marks and capitalisations with the usual implications for the sentence prosody where there need be no dou't. It is acknowledged that much ordinary punctuation is not at all free from ambiguity. The texts make some use of the "degree" symbol [˳] after O&A 1973 to indicate "stressed but unaccented" syllables. It's a transcriptional device useful to anyone who chooses to give an explicit indication to the reader of where the rise (eventually) occurs when a Fall-Rise tone has been signalled earlier.
  12. The use of terms like Rise-Bass goes some way towards avoiding the confusion created when descriptions suggest that rising tones can in statements have effects which are as diverse as 'encouraging', 'soothing', 'truculent' or 'perfunctory' (Wells 2006 "checklist of tone meanings" p.91 but see p.222 ff) which is rather reminiscent of O&A. At least the former pair of descriptions may be likely to be applicable to an ordinary Rise and the latter pair more likely to occur with a Rise-Bass — given neutral voice quality with both. So far from employing refined tone specifications, Wells 2006 finds it sufficient for its purely didactic mainly accentuation-oriented purposes to use just three symbols to cover all ranges of fall, rise and fall-rise.
  13. It's important to mention the frequent extreme difficulty of precisely judging pitch relationships in any recordings of spontaneous speech or of the performances of speakers who aim to adopt anything but a formal or careful speech style. Witness the reference to "great discrepancies" between transcribers by Gimson quoted at Section 8.4.9. At times the transcriber can experience something that is the auditory equivalent of optical illusion. This shouldnt be very surprising because speech is normally executed so rapidly that speakers may easily fall short in performance of reaching their prosodic targets or even be uncertain of or vague about what targets they wish to aim at. Those who might imagine that having instruments that can display with mathematical exactitude the pitch patterns of speech should solve all one's problems in this regard are doomed to disappointment. Such machines can even be positively misleading to the unwary. I strongly suspect that for example some transcribers have at times been led astray by such displays when seeing indications of pitch movements that were auditorily subliminal for them, such as the faint sound of the "revving up" of the vocal cords before a falling movement, they have inscribed them unsuitably as rising-falling tones. It was satisfying to read the candid comment in Wells (2006:223) "In analysing speech by ear or by machine it may sometimes be difficult or impossible to distinguish with certainty between ... different varieties of rise."
  14. Illustrations of the matters discussed above are offered at the People Speaking set of texts mentioned above. They will be referred to by the abbreviation "PS" along with the number given to the particular text.

Alt-Rise: This tone contrasts with F-R exactly as the Alt-plus-Rise sequence contrasts with the F-plus-Rise sequence. It's he'rd on Ex ˈ ˏcuse me, which is less emotive than Ex `ˏcuse me and on ˈ ˏAnyway etc. If the first tone is uttered very rapidly the contrast is lost but it is usually quite evident, as in the next examples. PS 13 begins ˈ ˏSarah!. PS 37 line 2 begins ˈ ˏMusic? and line 16 with ˈ ˏListened? (A-R occurred in some places in the O&A recordings but was subsumed notationally under F-R.)  

Many questions, commands etc take A-R eg ˈ ˏAren’t they?, ˈ ˏWho did?, ˈ ˏHow?, ˈ ˏTry them, ˈ ˏJane did, ˈ ˏI know.

Bass: This occurs occasionally in isolate exclamations but it's very unusual as a climax tone except on cool etc exclamations like ˌGood!. However, PS 27 penult line has ˈIt was ˌgreat. Sequences of Bass tones rise even in a tail eg: PS 12 line 1 ˎYou and your ˌold ˌanˌtiques. PS 15 line 11 'That’s ˊ`one way we ˌshan’t be ˌable to keep ˌup with them.

Climb-Alt This tends to be a sort of mainly rhetorical variant on the Climb-Fall theme. There were nine illustrations of at pp 70/71 of Armstrong-Ward 1926/31 including I shall ˊ ˈnever ˎfinish.

Climb-Fall: PS4 line 6 begins with a C-F on Howˊˋever, a tone most GB speakers make pretty limited use of, but as the actor will certainly have remembered, it was a very characteristic feature of Winston Churchill's speech. See also PS 17 Turn 12 So ˊˋlong as we...

Climb-Fall-Bass: Variety of C-F that completes its movement on the first of two syllables whereas C-F normally implies that the Fall element takes place on the second of them. Cf PS 15 line 1 ˊˋˌJoneses & lne 2 ˊˋHave they.

Climb-Fall-Rise: See my Blog 122 line 10 for ´`ˏsometimes.

Climb-Mid: (is a narrow ascent starting in the Mid range and staying within it and thereby not reaching the Alt range) PS 30 line 1 ˈD’you  ́-know...

Drop: PS 1 line 6 `-out and a`-gain;14.8 `-class; 17.6 ˋ'there , ˋ'too; 20.1  `-You know.... PS 3 line has two successive Drops that can be viewed as successively head and climax ...`-Uncle `-Ralph.... See also PS1 lines 1, 4, 6 and 7.

Fall-Rise: PS 4 line 5 has `ˏsorry and ac`ˏcepting and occurrences of it are to be found elsewhere passim.

Mixed heads: PS 1 line 9 ˊMany ˈhappy reˈturns.... PS 16 has ˈIs ́that a ˏtowel?. PS 9 has She was ́`yelling her `head off in `ˏagony....

Rise-Bass: PS1 line 8 ˏˌnotice. PS 11 line 7 ˏˌnow. The restricted narrow Rise-Base often contrasts strikingly with the wider Rise (-Mid) by being used in such contexts as pained or sad pleading where the full Rise wd be heard in cheerful, confident, complacent etc expressions. Cf `Don't do ˏˌthat with `Don't do ˏthat . Frank Finlay as Iago in the 1965 film of Othello said `Do it not with ˏˌpoison. The actor Stephen Moore as Charles Ryder's cousin Jasper in the 1981 Brideshead Revisited tv dramatisation used it very effectively in painedly/plaintively advising Charles, newly up at Oxford, `Don't treat dons like ˏˌschoolmasters, `Do watch the people you make ˏˌfriends with and, later, I ex`pected you to make mistakes in your first ˏˌyear...

Rise-Climb can be used for the widest of ascending tones ie from the Bass to the Alt register. Its most famous example is the tone on which the famous actress Edith Evans sed the word ˏˊHandbag in the recording of the interview between Lady Bracknell and Earnest Worthing in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest.

Rise-Slump: PS 21 begins with ˊHasn't ˏˎHans..

Rise-Fall: (strictly-speaking Rise-Alt-Fall): This is markedly wider than the C-F. PS 15 line 2 begins ˏ`Have they, indeed....

Slump: PS 29 has a head of three (predictedly) ascending Slumps at You ˎweren't exˎactly ˎup with the `ˏlark.

Slump-Alt: PS 20's penult line has ...ˎimage he ˈwas|... This tends to suggest (appropriately in its context) a perhaps rather Cockney rhetorical style.

Slump-Rise: In PS 5 compare ˎˏreally in line 3 with the F-R  ˋˏonions at line 7.

Slump-Rise-Alt: PS 10 line 8 begins with ˎˏˈOh.

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