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American Speech Music

Language conveys very specific information, such as how to get somewhere or what someone is doing. It can be also used beyond the exact meaning of the words to indicate how the speaker feels about what he is saying, or how he personally feels at that moment. Generally speaking, if English is not your first language, this is where you start running into difficulty. Even if you pronounce each word clearly, if your intonation patterns are nonstandard, your meaning will probably not be clear. Also, in terms of comprehension, you will lose a great deal of information if you are listening for the actual words used. Each language deals with expressing these emotional ranges and contextual importance in different ways. Some languages, such as French and other Romance languages, stress the end of a sentence, and then use word order to indicate an important change. Other languages, such as Chinese, have a pitch change that indicates different vocabulary words, and then superimpose further pitch change to change meaning or emotion.

Because English has a fairly strictly fixed word order, it is not an option to rearrange the words when we want to make a point about something. Intonation in American English is the rise and fall of pitch in order to convey a range of meanings, emotions or situations, within the confines of standard grammar and fixed word order. The intonation aspects of grammar are explained in and complex grammar.

New Information
This is the starting point of the standard When we say that we need to stress the new information, it's logical to think, "Hmmm, this is the first time I'm saying this sentence, so it's all new information. I'd better stress every word." Well, not quite. In standard English, we consider that the nouns carry the weight of a sentence, when all else is equal. Although the verb carries important information, it does not receive the primary stress of a first-time noun. Dogs eat bones. After the information has been introduced, or is being repeated through the use of pronouns, the intonation shifts over to the verb. Notice how the intonation changes when a sentence changes from nouns to pronouns: Dogs eat bones. They eat them.

In addition to the intonation of a statement, there is another aspect of speech that indicates meaning -phrasing. Have you ever caught just a snippet of a conversation in your own language, and somehow known how to piece together what came before or after the part you heard? This has to do with your natural understanding of phrasing. In a sentence, phrasing tells you where the speaker is at the moment, where he is going, and if he is finished or not. Notice that the intonation stays on the nouns .

Statement Stress the nouns and let the tone fall at the end of the sentence.

First half, second half The first half of a sentence usually sets up the second half.

Dogs eat bones.

Dogs eat bones, but cats eat fish.

Intro Phrase When you want to preface your statement, use a rising tone. As we all know, dogs eat bones.

Listing With more than one item in a list, all but the last one have a rising tone. Dogs eat bones, kibbles and meat.

Question A regular question goes up (compared with a statement), but drops back down at the end. Do dogs eat bones?

Repeated Question A repeated, rhetorical or emotional question goes up, and then up again at the end. erif; color: #cc0000;">Do dogs eat bones?!

You'll notice, of course, that the dogs-eat-bones sentence uses simple nouns and simple verbs. An extremely important part of intonation is compound nouns and complex verb tenses.

Once the intonation of new information is established, you'll soon notice that there is a pattern that breaks that flow. When you want to emphasize one thing over another, you reflect this contrast with pitch change. Notice how the intonation indicates contrast: Bob studies English. Bob studies English, but he doesn't use it. If a person consistently stresses "contrast words" as opposed to "new information words", he can end up sounding permanently argumentative: I said it is good. He doesn't like it. Where are you going? Additionally, mixed messages occur when modals or verbs of perception are stressed -- you end up with the opposite meaning! People should exercise more, but . . . They would help us, if . . It looks like Chanel, but at that price, it's a knock-off. He seems like a nice guy, but once you get to know him. .

A good exercise to demonstrate the variety of meaning through intonation changes is to take a single sentence, try stressing each word in turn, and see the totally different meanings that come out. 1. I didn't say he stole the money. 2. I didn't say he stole the money. 3. I didn't say he stole the money. 4. I didn't say he stole the money. 5. I didn't say he stole the money. 6. I didn't say he stole the money. 7. I didn't say he stole the money.

Once you are clear on the intonation changes in the seven sentences, you can add context words to clarify the meaning: 1. I didn't say he stole the money, someone else said it. 2. I didn't say he stole the money, that's not true a tall. 3. I didn't say he stole the money, I only suggested the possibility. 4. I didn't say he stole the money, I think someone else took it. 5. I didn't say he stole the money, maybe he just borrowed it. 6. I didn't say he stole the money, but rather some other money. 7. I didn't say he stole the money, he may have taken some jewelry.

In any language, there are areas of overlap, where one category has a great deal in common with a different category. In this case, intonation and pronunciation have two areas of overlap. First is the pronunciation of the letter T. When a T is at the beginning of a word (such as table, ten, take), it is a clear sharp sound. It is also clear in combination with certain other letters, (contract, contain, etc.) When T is in the middle of a word (or in an unstressed position), it turns into a softer D sound. (This is covered in more detail in pronunciation.) Betty bought a bit of better butter. Beddy bada bida bedder budder. It is this intonation/pronunciation shift that accounts for the difference between photography (phoTAgraphy) and photograph (PHOdagraph).

Mood & Personality

This is an extremely important aspect of intonation, as it goes beyond what you are trying to say--it dictates how your listener will relate to you as an individual--if you will be considered charming or rude, confident or nervous, informed or unfamiliar. An extremely important part of intonation is inside a one-syllable word. Intonation in a one-syllable word? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? No, we put in little sounds that are not in the written language, but that convey a great deal of information in terms of who we are. (These extra sounds are explained in liaisons.) When we contrast two similar words, one ending with a voiced consonant (d, z, g, v, b) and the other with an unvoiced consonant (t, s, k, f, p), you will hear the difference in the preceding vowel, specifically in the length or duration of that vowel. Simply put, words that end in a voiced consonant have a doubled vowel sound. For example, if you say bit, it is a quick, sharp sound--a single musical note. If you say bid, however, the word is stretched out, it has two musical notes, the first one higher than the second, bi-id.

single tense lax beat bit

double bead bid

Compound Nouns
One of the first things you learn about intonation is that nouns carry the new information, and consequently, they carry the stress in a sentence. Dogs eat bones. But what if you have an adjective with the noun, or two nouns together -- which word do you stress? In this case, you have to make a simple decision: Either stress the first word or the second word (rarely both). How do you know which one to stress? Well, if it is a description (with no contrast), skim over the adjective and stress the noun: a nice guy a big house a good idea If you have a two nouns that form a compound noun, stress the first word: a hot dog a notebook a picture frame This will explain why we say: He lives in a white house. He lives in the White House. After you have mastered first-word or second-word stress, you can go on the more complex intonation: It's a pot. It's new. It's a new pot. It's brand new. It's a brand new pot. It's a tea pot. It's a new tea pot. It's a brand new tea pot. It's a tea pot lid. It's a new tea pot lid. It's a brand new tea pot lid.

Word Connections
American Sound Jeet? No, joo? Kwee geddit? Sko! Jlik smore? I shda tol joo. Ledder gedda bedder wdr heedr. How to wreck a nice beach. Hole dna sek'nt! Hoja ly kuh liddul more? They doe neev'n lye kit. Doe neeven thing ka bow dit! There are four main points where liaisons happen: Consonant & Vowel Consonant & Consonant Vowel & Vowel T, D, S, or Z & the Y sound Spelling Did you eat? No, did you? Can we get it? Let's go! Would you like some more? I should have told you. Let her get a better water heater. How to recognize speech. Hold on a second! How would you like a little more? They don't even like it. Don't even thing about it!

In American English, words are not pronounced one by one. Usually, the end of one word attaches to the beginning of the next word. This is also true for initials, numbers, and spelling. Part of the glue that connects sentences is an underlying hum or drone that only breaks when you come to a period, and sometimes not even then. You have this underlying hum in your own language and it helps a great deal toward making you sound like a native speaker. Once you have a strong intonation, you need to connect all those stairsteps together so that each sentence sounds like one long word.

The dime. The dime easier. They tell me the dime easier. They tell me the dime easier to understand. They tell me that I'm easier to understand. The last two sentences above should be pronounced exactly the same, no matter how they are written. It is the sound that is important, not the spelling.

Consonant & Vowel

Words are connected when a words ends in a consonant sound and the next word starts with avowel sound, including the semivowels W, Y and R. (You can check out the individual sounds as well. Spelling Pronunciation

My name is Ann. [my nay mi zn] American accent [amer'k' nksent]

You also use liaisons in spelling and numbers.

Spelling LA

Pronunciation [eh lay]

909-5068 [ni nou nin, fi vo sick sate]

Cosonant & Consonant

Words are connected when a word ends in a consonant sound and the next word starts with a consonant that is in a similar position. Lips Unvoiced Voiced P, F Behind Teeth T, Ch, S, Sh Throat K, H G, Ng, R

B, V D, J, Z, Zh

For example, if a word ends with a letter from the Behind Teeth category and the next word starts with a letter from that same category, these words are going to naturally join together. This is the same for Lips and Throat. Spelling Pronunciation

I just didn't get the chance [I jussdidn't ge(t)the chance] I've been late twice. Vowel & Vowel [ivbin la(t)twice]

When a word ending in a vowel sound is next to one beginning with a vowel sound, they are connected with a glide between the two vowels. Spelling Go away. Pronunciation [go(w)away]

I also need the other one. [i(y)lso need the(y)other one] A glide is either a slight [y] sound or a slight [w] sound. How do you know which one to use? This will take care of itself--the position your lips are in will dictate either [y] or [w]. For example, if a word ends in [o], your lips are going to be in the forward position, so a [w] quite naturally leads into the next vowel sound: [Go(w)away]. After a long [e] sound, you lips will be pulled back far enough to create a [y] glide or liaison: [I(y)also need the(y)other one]. Don't force this sound too much, though. It's not a strong pushing sound.

T, D, S, or Z & the Y sound

When the letter or sound of T, D, S or Z is followed by a word that starts with Y, or its sound, both sounds are connected. These letters and sounds connect not only with Y, but they do so as well with the initial unwritten [y] sound of syllables and words. They form a combination that changes the pronunciation. T+Y=J



What's your name? [Whacher name?] Can't you do it? Don't you like it? actually D+Y=J Spelling What did you do? Pronunciation [Whajoo do?] [Canchoo do it?] [Donchoo like it?] [achully]

Would you help me? [Wjoo help me?] Did you like it? graduation S + Y = SH Spelling Pronunciation [Didja like it?] [graju(w)ation]

insurance [inshurance] sugar Z + Y = ZH Spelling How's your family? Who's your friend? casual usual Pronunciation [howzher family?] span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: small;">[hoozhier friend?] : small;">[kazhyoow'l] [yuzhoow'l] [shg'r]

Once you have thoroughly studied intonation and word connections, you can begin to address the sounds of English. The three most important vowels are [], [], and [ ]. This last symbol, called the schwa, is represented with an upside down e, and is the most common sound in the English language. These are the vowels found in cat, caught and cut. The three most distinctive consonants are R, the American middle T, and the Th sound. The R is a consonant, but it acts more like a vowel, because the tip of the tongue doesn't touch anywhere in the mouth. The middle T is what makes a word like meeting sound like meeding. As the most commonly used word in English is the word the, the Th is very important. Here are some very high-frequency TH words: the, these, those, they, them, there, they're, their, this, that and then. If these and those are pronounced with a D instead of a TH, it sounds like dese and dose, which is considered lower class in America.

The American R
The American R is like a vowel because it does not touch anywhere in the mouth. In Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Greek and many other languages, the R is a consonant because it touches behind the teeth. The American R is produced deep in the throat. Like the French R and the German R, the American R is in the throat, but unlike those two consonant sounds, it doesn't touch. Let's contrast two similar sounds: [] and [r]. Hold your hand out in front of you, with your palm up, like you are holding a tray on it. Slightly drop your hand down, and say ah, like you want the doctor to see your throat. Now, curl your fingers up slightly, and say [r]. Your tongue should feel in about the same position as your hand.

Let's start with the [] sound. Although it's not a common sound, [] is very distinctive to the ear, and is typically American. In the practice paragraph vowel chart, this sound occurs 5 times. As its phonetic symbol indicates, [] is a combination of [] + [e]. To pronounce it, drop your jaw down as if you were going to say []; then from that position, try to say eh. The final sound is not two separate vowels, but rather the end result of the combination. It is very close to the sound that a goat makes: ma-a-a-a! If you find yourself getting too nasal with [], pinch your nose as you say it. Go to the practice paragraph and find the 5 sounds, including [u] as in down or out.

The [] sound is a more common sound than []; you will find 10 such sounds in the practice paragraph. To pronounce [], relax your tongue and drop your jaw as far down as it will go. As a matter of fact, put your hand under your chin and say [m], [p], [t], [s]. Your hand should be pushed down by your jaw as it opens. Remember, it's the sound that you make when the doctor wants to see your throat.

Last is the schwa, the most common sound in American English. When you work on the practice paragraph, depending on how fast you speak, how smoothly you make liaisons, how strong your into nation is, how much you relax your sounds, you will find from 50 to 75 schwas. Spelling doesn't help identify it, because it can appear as any one of the vowels, or a combination of them. It is a neutral vowel sound, uh. It is usually in an unstressed syllable, though it can be stressed as well.

Whenever you find a vowel that can be crossed out and its absence wouldn't change the pronunciation of the word, you have probably found a schwa: photography [f'tgr'fee] (the two apostrophes show the location of the neutral vowel sounds). Because it is so common, however, the wrong pronunciation of this one little sound can leave your speech strongly accented, even if you Americanize everything else. Remember, some dictionaries use two different written characters, the upside down e & [^] for the neutral uh sound, but for simplicity, we are only going to use the first one.

Silent or Neutral?
A schwa is neutral, but it is not silent. By comparison, the silent E at the end of a word is a signal for pronunciation, but it is not pronounced itself: code is [kod]. The E tells you to say an [o]. If you leave the E off, you have cod, [kd]. The schwa, on the other hand, is neutral, but it is an actual sound, uh. For example, you could also write photography as phuh-tah-gruh-fee.

The schwa is a neutral sound, (no distinctive characteristics), but it is the most common sound in the English language. To make the uh sound, put your hand on your diaphragm and push until a grunt escapes. Don't move your jaw, tongue or lips, just allow the sound to flow past your vocal cords. It should sound like uh, not ah. Once you master the two sounds [] and uh, you will have an easier time pronouncing 'can' and 'can't'. In a sentence, the simple positive 'can' sound like [k'n]. The simple negative 'can't' sounds like [kn(t)].

The American T
The American T is influenced very strongly by intonation and its position in a word or phrase. It can be a little tricky if you try to base your pronunciation on spelling alone. There are, however, 4 basic rules: [T is T], [T is D], [T is Silent],[T is Held]. 1 Top of the Staircase [T is T] If the T is at the beginning of a word (or the top of the staircase), it is a strong, clear T sound. In the beginning of a word: table, take, tomorrow, teach, ten, turn Thomas tried two times.With a stressed T and ST, TS, TR, CT, LT and sometimes NT combinations: They control the contents. In the past tense, D sounds like T, after an unvoiced consonant sound f, k, p, s, ch, sh, th (but not T). picked [pikt], hoped [houpt], raced [rast], watched [wcht], washed [wsht] It took Tim ten times to try the telephone.

2 Middle of the Staircase [T is D] If the T is in the middle of the word, intonation changes the sound to a soft D. Letter sounds like [ledder]. Water, daughter, bought a, caught a, lot of, got a, later, meeting, better Practice these sentences: What a good idea. [w'd' gdi deey'] Put it in a bottle. [p di di n' bd'l] Get a better water heater. [gedda bedder wder heeder] Put all the data in the computer. [pdall the dayd' in the k'mpyuder] Patty ought to write a better letter. [pdy d' ride a bedder ledder]

3 T is Silent T and N are so close in the mouth that the [t] can disappear. interview [innerview] international [innernational] advantage [dvn'j] percentage [percen'j] If the T is at the end of a word, you almost don't hear it at all. put, what, lot, set, hot, sit, shot, brought. That's quite right, isn't it?

4 Bottom of the Staircase [T is Held]

With -tain, -tten and some TN combinations, the T is held. The "held T" is, strictly speaking, not really a T at all. Remember, [t] and [n] are very close in the mouth. If you have [n] immediately after [t], you don't pop the [t]the tongue is in the [t] position, but your release the air for the [n] not the [t]. Make sure you don't put a schwa before the [n]. An important point to remember is that you need a sharp upward sliding intonation up to the "held T," then a quick drop for the N. Written, certain, forgotten, sentence He's forgotten the carton of satin mittens. She's certain that he has written it. Martin has gotten a kitten.

The American L
The American L has two different pronunciations in English (of course, otherwise it would be too easy!). In the beginning or middle of a word, the tongue tip touches just behind the teeth on those hard ridges. In this position, the L shouldn't give you much trouble. The difficulty begins when the L is at the end of a word. Because the letter L has a shorter, sharper pronunciation in other languages, this will carry over into English, where the whole word will just sound too short. At the end of a word, the L is especially noticeable if it is either missing (Chinese) or too short (Spanish). You need to put a little schwa sound before the final L. If you want to say the word ball, [bl], it will sound too short if you don't say [b-uhl]. You may even need to add a tiny schwa at the end to finish off the L, [b-uh-luh]. One way to avoid the pronunciation difficulty of a final L, such as in call, is to make a liaison when the next word begins with a vowel. For example, if you want to say I have to call on my friend, let the liaison do your work for you; say, [I have to k-ln my friend].

Tee Aitch
The most common word in the English language is THE, so after the schwa, [th] would be the sound you would hear most often, which is why it is so important to master it. ([th] also exists in English, Greek and Castillian Spanish.) Besides 'the,' there are several other very common words that start with a voiced [th]: this, that, that, those, they, them, their, there, then Just as with most of the other consonants, there are two types voiced and unvoiced. The voiced TH is like a D, but instead of being in back of the teeth, it's 1/4 inch lower and forward, between the teeth. The unvoiced TH is like an S between the teeth. Most people tend to replace the unvoiced TH with S or T and the voiced one with Z or D. Instead of thing, they say sing, or ting. Instead of that, they say zat or dat. To pronounce TH correctly, think of a snake's tongue. You don't want to take a big relaxed tongue and push it far between your teeth and just leave it out there. Make only a very quick, sharp little movement. Keep the tip of your tongue very tense. It darts out between your teeth and snaps back very quickly.

I and E
These two sounds probably give you a lot of trouble. One reason for this is that most languages don't make a distinction here. Another reason is that there are four ways of saying these two sounds, depending what the final consonant is. This another place where intonation and pronunciation overlap. When you say the long [e], it is a tense vowel sound. You slightly draw your lips back and raise the back of your tongue. When you say the short [i], it is a lax vowel sound. Don't move your lips AT ALL and open your throat. If the final consonant is unvoiced (whispered), [t, k, f, p, s, sh, ch], then the middle vowel sound is quick and sharp: [bit] or [beet] If the final consonant is voiced (spoken), [d, g, v, b, z, zh, j] or any vowel, then the middle vowel sound is doubled: [bi-id] or [bee-eed].

Silent Letters