Intonation is a variation in vocal pitch across a spoken utterance that add meaning, nuance or emphasis. Intonation changes occur naturally throughout a spoken utterance. However, the most dramatic or significant change occurs on one syllable called the nucleus.

The four basic English intonation patterns are:
  • RISE - pitch increases, signalling a question, doubt or uncertainty.
  • FALL - pitch decreases, signalling a statement, command or certainty, or highlighting or correcting the last speaker.
  • ➚➘ RISE-FALL - pitch increases and then decreases, certainty, exclamation or sarcasm/humour
  • ➘➚ FALL-RISE - pitch decreases then increases, signalling doubt or uncertainty.

The change in intonation is transcribed by adding an arrow or arrows immediately before the nucleus (or tonic syllable) where the change in vocal pitch takes place.

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