Why are the concepts of Rhythm and Intonation so important to the non-native speaker of English?
It is so very true that every language has it’s own rhythm, or beat. So when we transfer that familiar rhythm, or beat, to another language we happen to be learning, what the listener expects to hear is unfamiliar and what the listener hears makes the message difficult to understand.
The patterns of both stressed and unstressed words and syllables helps create the rhythm of the English language in which the basic rhythm of English is an alternating strong and weak pattern. There are basic rhythm patterns in phrases and sentences. During conversation, speakers of English usually stress words that carry the meaning of the sentences. These are called “content” words. To stress a syllable, we make the vowel louder, longer, and go up in pitch.
To weaken or make a syllable unstressed, we cut the vowel, shorten the vowel, or rush through the vowel in the word to create that contrast between strong and weak syllables.
In the sample sentence, “It has been snowing for days“… two of the stressed content words “snowing” and “days” are spoken much “louder” and “longer” and with an increase in “pitch”, emphasizing their importance in the spoken message. The other words in the sentence, e.g. It has been, for… are weakened and unstressed in this sample sentence.
Intonation is the rise and fall of pitch in our voice. Falling intonation patterns are heard in “statements”, such as in our sample sentence… “It has been snowing for days”…and at the end of Wh-questions which request information, e.g. Where has it been snowing for days?”. In the Standard American accent, the intonation generally rises at the end of yes/no questions, e.g. “Will it be snowing for days?”.
Rising and falling intonation patterns lets the listener know when the speaker will continue to speak, OR when the speaker has finished speaking. Intonation can provide much more information “beyond” the actual words spoken, conveying the speakers attitude and feelings.
Please let me know if you have any questions!
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