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Intonation: An Essential Element of the American English Accent

» Intonation: An Essential Element of the American English Accent


November 13th, 2007 by admin

By:  Frank Gerace

Intonation in English.

Intonation, the “music” of a language, is perhaps the most important element of a correct accent. Many people think that  pronunciation is what makes up an accent. It may be that pronunciation is very important for an understandable accent. But it is intonation that gives the final touch that makes an accent correct or native. Often we hear someone speaking with perfect grammar, and perfect formation of the sounds of English but with a little something that gives her away as not being a native speaker.

Therefore, it is necessary to realize that there are three components to an accent, pronunciation, intonation, and linking. In other places we will examine pronunciation, the proper formation of vowels and consonants, and linking, the way that syllables within a word, and the beginning and ending of words come together.

We will look at three places that help us to hear clearly the difference that intonation makes in the daily use of a proper North American English accent. The practice with the following three situations will help you to notice, practice, and master the different intonation patterns that you will discover as you concentrate more on your use of North American English.

The three situations are: 1. the different intonation of the same word when it is used as a noun or as a verb; 2. the different intonation of the same word when it is used as an adjective or as a verb; 3. the intonation of expressions of two words.

You can find more on this topic at: http://www.goodaccent.com
There are resources at: http://www.goodaccent.com/accentbooks.htm
And in Spanish at http://www.inglesparlatinos.com/Pronunciar.htm

1. Intonation: Noun Verb

Knowing when and where to stress the words you use is very important for understanding, and is part of a good accent. A clear example is that of the different stress in nouns and verbs.

It will be useful for you to be aware of the stress in both cases. Here is a list of a few that will get you thinking and give you some practice in identifying them and using them correctly. Underline the syllable that is stressed, and write a brief explanation to indicate that you understand the difference. I start the exercise with two examples, the words suspect and present. You do the rest. And make sure you pronounce the words OUT LOUD.

VERB
to suspect
to have an opinion

NOUN
a suspect
a person under suspicion

VERB
to present, to give
to introduce

NOUN
a present,
a gift, now

to conflict
a conflict

to contest
a contest

to contract
a contract

to contrast
a contrast

to convert
a convert

to convict
a convict

to default
a default

to discharge
a discharge

to incline
an incline

to insult
an insult

to object
an object

to permit
a permit

to present
a present

to produce
a produce

to progress
a progress

to project
a project

to protest
a protest

to rebel
a rebel

to recall
a recall

to reject
a reject

to research
a research

to subject
a subject

to survey
a survey

Can you tell the difference in the following sentences?

You need to insert a paragraph here on this newspaper insert.

How can you object to this object?

I’d like to present you with this present.

The manufacturer couldn’t recall if there’d been a recall.

The religious convert wanted to convert the world.

The political rebels wanted to rebel against the world.

The mogul wanted to record a new record for his latest artist.

If you perfect your intonation, your accent will be perfect.

Due to the drought, the fields didn’t produce much produce this year.

Unfortunately, City Hall wouldn’t permit them to get a permit.
……………………………….

2. Intonation: Noun/Adjective and Verb

In the previous case, we saw that verbs of two syllables often have the stress on the second syllable, while the related noun has the stress on the first syllable.

This case, along with the previous case, is an example of the effect that meaning has on intonation in English. Many native speakers do not realize that the “rule” of this section is pretty rigorous. To know it can help you in building your vocabulary at the same time as you perfect your intonation.

There is another intonation pattern that you must master. Verbs ending in the letters “ate” pronounce the letter “a” of the last syllable with the “long a” sound (the name of the letter “a”, the sound of the words steak and make).

Related nouns or adjectives pronounce the letter “a” of the last syllable with the indefinite schwa sound (the sound of the “a” of the word about>, or the second “e” in the word elephant )

For each word, indicate that you realize the effect of meaning on intonation by clarifying the difference between the two uses of the same word (“same” meaning having the same spelling.)

First, give a brief meaning of the word used as noun or adjective and put the letter I to indicate that the final letter “a” is the indefinite sound of the “a” in about..

Next, give a brief meaning of the word used as a verb and put the letter A to indicate that the final letter “a” is the sound of the “long a”. I start the exercise with two examples, the words alternate and appropriate. You do the rest. And make sure you pronounce the words OUT LOUD.

alternate I
Noun: A substitute

alternate A
Verb: To take turns.

appropriate I
Adjective: Correct or suitable

Appropriate A
Verb: To take over.

approximate
to approximate

articulate
to articulate

associate
to associate

deliberate
to deliberate

duplicate
to duplicate

laminate
to laminate

graduate
to graduate

intimate
to intimate

moderate
to moderate

predicate
to predicate

precipitate
to precipitate

Read the following sentences, pronouncing the words with the proper
intonation according to their use in the sentence.

The facilitator wanted to separate the general topic into separate
categories

Would you care to elaborate on his elaborate explanation?

Have you heard that your associate is known to associate with gangsters?

How much do you estimate that the estimate will be?

……………………………

3. Two Word Stress

Knowing when and where to stress the words you use is very important for understanding, and therefore, as part of a good accent. A clear example is that of stress in two word expressions.

The place of the stress depends on whether the two words are used to describe something like a “white HOUSE” (meaning a house that is painted white, and not blue or gray). In this case the most important note is the noun because we are talking about a house that happens to be white. Similarly, a fat BOY is an overweight young male.

But sometimes-short two word expressions are set and “consecrated”, and mean something special, like “the WHITE house” where Mr. Bush lives. In this case, the emphasis is on the adjective because we are more interested in stressing that it is the house that is known because it is white. Similarly, FAT boy is the nickname of a boy, chosen because it emphasizes his weight.

It will be useful for you to be aware of both types of two word expressions. Here is a list of a few that will get you thinking and give you some practice in identifying them and using them correctly. Underline the syllable that is stressed, and write a brief explanation, for both uses of each phrase. I start the exercise with two examples, the words white house and light bulb. You do the rest. And make sure you pronounce the words OUT LOUD.

WHITE house
In Washington

White HOUSE
House painted white

LIGHT bulb
Shines with electricity

Light BULB
A bulb that is not heavy

Dark room
Dark room

A cold fish
A gold fish

The paper box
The paper box

An old key
A door key

A nice watch
A wrist watch

A sticky web
A spider web

A clean cup
A coffee cup

A toy gun
A water gun

A bright star
A movie star

A new ball
A foot ball

A sharp knife
A steak knife

An old brush
A hair brush

A dry leaf
A fig leaf

A pointy tack
A thumb tack

A blackboard
A black board

A gray hound
A greyhound

A down payment
A late payment

He’s a big man.
He’s a big man.

A green house
A green house

The author, Frank Gerace, Ph.D, has worked in communication and education projects in Latin America. He has taught in public and private universities in Peru and Bolivia. Currently he teaches English to immigrant adults at an important branch of CUNY, the City University of New York. He also does private consultations for accent reductioon. He can be reached at   [mailto:accent@leerespoder.com]accent@leerespoder.com. His website is http://www.GoodAccent.com and in Spanish it is http://www.InglesParaLatinos.com/Pronunciar.htm

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