Intonation and the English Language

“linguistics is the structure of words in a language, including patterns of inflections and derivation.”

In the linguistics department at UCL Dr Geoff Lindsey is the expert on intonation.  Intonation comes under the “patterns of inflection” part of linguistics.  This is an extremely important, initial part of learning a language.  In a way it creates the “music” of the language.
Most actors have developed the ability to copy intonation and general speech patterns through keen listening and observation.  My job as a dialect coach is to match the intonation pattern and the sounds and pass these on to the actors.  Once an actor has completed this step in learning the dialect,  it is of secondary importance.  The main drive of their speech will be using the language with the dialect, to act their role.    Contact Frances for dialect coaching at  +44 (0) 20 75806191

When I’m working with business people to help them express themselves vividly in English when English is not their main language, I work in a different way.  My clients are already knowledgeable in the English language and suffer from the agony of having to speak slowly and pedantically or take the risk of stumbling over their words.  They want to speak English with the same fluency as they speak their primary language.  As their primary language does not require the same breath flow as English they are often hijacked from the start. Adjustments can only take place and stay in place in the movement of mouth muscles, if they are synchronised with the onset of  voice production.  As voice production is stimulated in the language centre of the brain, the choice of words is crucial.  The choice of  our “nuclear” or “key” words will give impact and meaning to each of our phrases.    This is what creates intonation and rhythm and this   guides the ear of the listener.  Intonation then becomes intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  The words are more naturally connected to the speaker as with a first language, rather than connected to a learned intonation pattern.  Studied intonation patterns can give the listener the impression that the speaker’s not being sincere.  In England during the mid to late eighteenth century, intonation was used to great effect, to deliver terrible insults disguised as words of praise.   For more information on speaking English with clarity go to:

My grateful thanks to Dr Geoff Lindsey for his instruction on intonation at UCL.  It’s good to hear him on Fry’s English Delight.   He sounds more circumspect about intonation and much less formulaic.

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