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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In linguistics, intonation refers to the variation of pitch and stress when pronouncing words. Its function in language is to distinguish meaning. In English, for example, when we are asking questions, we say we use rising intonation. That means that our pitch and stress rise as we get to the end of a sentence. For example, in a question:

What do you think of this answer?

When you say this sentence aloud, listen to how your voice makes a kind of rising pattern - at the end, you emphasize the word "answer", so the pattern is rising.

Now, turn it into a statement:

I think this answer is good.

Say this sentence aloud and you will see a falling pattern of intonation. When you say "good", the pitch and stress go down.

That said, intonation patterns are different in other languages. In French, for example, statements often have rising intonation. This is how a native speaker can easily spot a non-native speaker, because the intonation is not quite right.

Some languages like Asian languages and Native American languages even change the meaning of words by changing the intonation.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In linguistics, intonation refers to the way in which a speaker varies his or her pitch when pronouncing words. Along with stress (the way certain words are emphasized), intonation is an element of linguistic prosody. "Pitch" refers to the height of one's voice when saying a word. Normal speech is delivered at midlevel, and intonation involves altering one's pitch. "Sentence stress" is also part of intonation, and it involves pronouncing some words at a higher pitch and more clearly to emphasize them. 

Intonation has several functions. It allows the speaker to convey emotions and attitudes in speech, such as finality, joy, sadness, etc. Intonation also allows the speaker to stress certain words. In addition, intonation can help the speaker convey the grammar of the spoken words by pausing at certain points, for example, or by raising the voice to ask a question. In addition, intonation can help the speaker convey what he or she expects of the listener(s) in discourse by, for example, seeming to ask a question or by conveying when something is new information in contrast to information the listener already knows.