The general characteristics

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The general characteristics

Intonation has always been a difficult thing to define. According to traditional descriptions, intonation is «the melody of speech», and is to be analyzed in terms of variations in pitch. Intonation is said to indicate the attitudes and emotions of the speaker, so that a sentence like 'I think it's time to go now' can be said in a happy way, a sad way, an angry way, and so on. While this is certainly true, there is clearly more than just pitch variation involved in conveying such things, so the definition of intonation becomes considerably more complicated. It is clear that when we are expressing emotions, we also use different voice qualities, different speaking rates, facial expressions, gestures, and so on. We must indicate what type of information type are presenting and how it is structured, and at the same time we must keep our listeners' attention and their participation in the exchange of information. Communicative interaction would be much more difficult without intonation: think how many misunderstandings between people arise in the exchange of e-mail messages, where intonation cannot play a role.

In English, as in many other languages, pitch is an important component of accentuation, or prominence, both at the level of individual words and at the level of longer utterances.