The most essential speech unit (complete and independent) is a sentence. It consists of words and the words are made up of definite sounds. Sentences are usually separated from each other by pauses. If necessary, the sentence is subdivided into shorter word groups – sense-groups. A sense-group, or an intonation group, or a syntagm, - is a part of a sentence, characterized by the completeness of its sense, a certain intonation pattern and grammar.
All the phonetic features (pauses, speech melody, sentence-stress, rhythm, tempo, timbre) form a complex unity, called intonation.
Speech melody. The pitch of the voice does not stay on the same level when the sentence is pronounced. It fluctuates rising and falling on the vowels and voiced consonants. These falls and rises form definite patterns, typical of English. The fluctuations of the voice pitch are called speech melody.
Sentence-stress. Words in the speech flow may be stressed and unstressed. Words which provide most of the information are brought out in speech by means of sentence-stress. Stressed words are usually nouns, verbs, adjectives, numerals, adverbs. These words are essential for the meaning of the sentence. Articles, prepositions, auxiliary, modal, link verbs, personal and possessive pronouns are usually unstressed. They are pronounced in their weak, reduced form. Thus sentence-stress is a special prominence given to one or more words according to their relative importance in the sentence.
There are three types of sentence-stress:
1. Normal – affects content words which convey the necessary information to the listener. It arranges words into sentences phonetically. It expresses the general idea of the sentence and indicates its communicative center (the last content word of the syntagm).
2. Logical – gives special prominence to a new element in a sentence. The word which is singled out by the logical stress is the communicative (or logical) center of the sentence. The words following the logical stress remain unstressed.
3. Emphatic – increases the effort of expression, making stressed words still more prominent. It is a powerful expressive means. It manifests itself on the High Fall and Rise-Fall of the last stressed syllable.
- The English negative particle “not” is usually stressed.
- The conjunction “as…as” is not stressed.
- The word “good” is not stressed in the expressions Good morning, good afternoon, good evening when greeting a person, but it is on leave-taking.
- The word “street” when used in the names of streets is not stressed.
Rhythm. Connected English speech comes as series of closely knit groups of words, each word containing only one stressed syllable. The stressed syllables occur at approximately equal intervals of time. The result of interrelationship of stress and time is rhythm. Speech rhythm is inseparable from the syllabic structure of the language. There are two kinds of speech rhythm: syllable-timed rhythm (the syllables recur at equal intervals of time) and stress-timed rhythm (the stressed syllables recur at equal intervals of time). English is a stress-timed language: the stressed syllables occur at equal intervals of time and the unstressed syllables occupy approximately the same time between the stresses. The greater number of unstressed syllables between the stressed ones the more weakly and rapidly they are pronounced.
The pronunciation of intonation groups is based upon rhythmic groups. There are as many rhythmic groups in a sense-group as there are stressed syllables. A minimal rhythmic group consists of one stressed syllable, but most rhythmic groups consist of one stressed syllable and several unstressed syllables. If there are any initial unstressed syllables they link to the first stressed syllable (forming its proclitics), the rest unstressed syllables link to the preceding one (forming its enclitics).
The basic rules of English rhythm:
- The greater the number of unstressed syllables intervening between stressed ones, the more rapidly they are pronounced.
- Initial unstressed syllables are always pronounced very rapidly.
- The words with double stress may lose the first stress when preceded by another strongly stressed syllable, or they may lose the second stress when followed by another strongly stressed syllable.
- Preceded by unstressed syllables or when used between them, compounds have double stress. When preceded by a stressed syllable the compounds lose the first stress. When used as attributes before nouns stressed on the first syllable, the stress falls on the first element of the compound.
- When two nouns occur together, the first being used attributively, the second is not stressed (film star). But if the second noun polysyllabic it must be stressed (picture gallery).
- Postpositions lose their stress, if they are preceded by a stressed syllable, but in a combination of a verb and a postposition both usually receive stress.
Tempo of speech is the relative speed of utterance which is measured by the rate of syllable succession and the number and duration of pauses in a sentence. The speech may be slow, normal and fast. A pause is an act of stopping in the flow of speech.
Timbreis a special colouring of human voice.