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Nuclear tones

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Nucleus placement

Intonation grouping

The starting point for every kind of intonation analysis is the division into intonation groups (tone-group, syntagma, sense-group, breath-group are all synonyms); this basic prosodic unit serves as a marker of major syntactic constituents (sentence, clause, non-pronominal subject, repeated subject, topic, initial and non-defining adverbials, parenthesis, etc.). The length of an intonation group is about 2- 3 sec long, it consists of 1 -2 accent groups.

Specifics: The number of words in an intonation group in French is on average smaller than in English. The options for the speakers may be the same but the actual use is different. French is forced to introduce extra intonation groups for highlighting as there is only one accent in an intonation group.

There is one most prominent word which is normally placed at the end of the intonation group; intonation together with word order is used as a form of focusing attention. There is undoubtedly a tendency to prefer nouns to verbs as location of a nucleus: more often than not it is the final noun or, strictly speaking, noun phrase.

Specifics: Many languages are like English in allowing the nucleus (focus) to move up and down an intonation group according to the demands of contrast and of new/old information. Thus contrastivity and new/old information may be expressed in German and Russian in almost identical way. French hasn't got that potential, it has a fixed nucleus placement. This limitation also applies to Portuguese.

It would be ideal to compare abstract meanings of fallvs. risedichotomy as assertion vs. appeal ox finality vs. tentativeness, giving new information vs. referring to the old one. However the use of nuclear tones is usually associated with certain grammatical sentence types. The major sentence types are:

a) declaratives

Dwight Bolinger (Bolinger 1978) in a consideration of 57 non-tone languages found that 38 have a terminal fall at the end of a declarative with the implication that the terminal fall begins on the last pitch accent.

In non-final intonation groups a level, a rise and a non-low fall are generally reported.

b) yes-no interrogatives

D. Bolinger found that in 36 non-tone languages all except 4 are reported as having "a rise or a higher pitch somewhere". Another research (Ultan 1978) based on the survey of 53 languages brought similar results: 61% — terminal rise, 34% — higher pitch somewhere, 5.7% — a fall or a rise, 5.7% — a fall only (2 tone languages, only 1 clear exception).

The data show that even in tone languages a terminal rise is usual in yes-no questions.

Specifics: In tone languages where lexical tones are resistant to change there is a possibility to change intensity or to slightly modify the pitch level of the existing rise.

Another specific feature consists in the configuration of pitch movement. Alan Cruttenden describes the Russian rising tone as having a rising-falling pattern in the question: Ее зовут Наташа ? — In the word На'таша the stressed syllable goes up while the unstressed syllable goes down.

c) WH-questions

According to Ultan, in a sample of 53 languages (Ultan 1978) 52.1% have falls, 47.9% — a rise or a higher pitch. Other samples give evidence that in special questions falls are the dominant pattern, like in declaratives, but they may have a rise as an alternative when showing interest, kindness, sympathy, liveliness.

d) imperatives and exclamations

It has been found that exclamations may be associated with any syntactical structure, as with statements, for instance. However, exclamations are expressive while statements are just informative. That accounts for a wider pitch range as the most characteristic feature of exclamations, and a high falling tone as dominant.

Commands call for a falling tone pattern as well, while requests are associated with a rise.

Specifics: Pre-nuclear patterns are more specific than the basic nuclear tones, they contribute largely to the unique sound of a particular language. Thus, for instance, a series of slides is typical of Scottish intonation; Danish is reported to have rise-falling pitch movement in each accentual group or word, RP is known to have a gradually descending stepping head, while Russian intonation flavour is associated with the scandent ("zigzag") head.

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