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Yes. Would you prefer. If I got the money. Is that girl singing or talking Arnie. Well like you and me John she's trying to reach people with language through her voice and that means talking to a tune where our minds meet and a series of explorations in human communication conducted by professors John Prine Dan Arnold Nelson of the Department of English Western Michigan University where minds meet is produced and recorded by WMU K. under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. In a shrinking world where minds meet in words or not at all man speech is his most decisive act. These discussions explore this world of speech very topic for today is the keyboard of
speech in tone nation. Here are professors frind and Nelson. This is John freind and this is Arnold Nelson to give a straighter answer to your question John. I'd say that the flower girl was doing something between singing and talking compared to the announcers she was singing. But compared with the speech of the congenitally deaf such as we heard on our last program our announcer speeches singing well musical that's safe to say I'm sure. I think we can demonstrate today that the speech mechanism is a special kind of musical instrument more complex and versatile than any other. On our last program we dealt with the earmarks of English that is the spoken vowels and consonants and the way they're put together to make English words. Today we'll see how the voice puts words together for the purpose of communication in ordinary speech that is what you call talking to a tune is is not confined to the chanting rhythm of the flower girl. Not at all. Her speech is rhythmical but quite monotonous. Not much variation in pitch either. Her ordinary speech would be a
great deal more varied in both rhythm and melody. And it's not variety in the tune that distinguishes talking from singing. Well here's another example of chanting. Notice here the extremely regular rhythm. Do you get your body you do the big me go with my mind. One of the everybody get out of the. Ghetto. And if you want it now that seems a little closer to ordinary speech the barker spiel pays attention to the sense of the words the music and the meaning weren't as far apart as the flower girls telling us he's book in recognizable sentences and he emphasized the words in a fairly normal way. But again there was a little variety and as rhythm and melody. Well before we turn to some normal speech Arnie I'd like to point out that the flower girl and the Coney Island Barker were exploiting the principle that the way we speak our tone of voice is sometimes
more important than what we say. That's an important point John. The Barkers message a very simple one to be sure is probably conveyed more by his tone than by his words. Right and this is often the case in ordinary speech too. Well we have an interesting sample from a public address by the late Harold Ickes secretary of the Interior in Roosevelt's administration. Mr. Ickes voice we discovered is especially musical both in rhythm and melody. Yes we didn't fully appreciate the musical quality of Harold Ickes speech until we performed an operation on it that separated the music from the meaning. I think we should describe an operation before we hear his voice. Well we asked a skilled musician Mrs. Catherine Lowe to transcribe bikies voice into musical notation an extremely difficult feat. Then we gave the musical notation to another skilled musician Mr. Robert Schieber of our music department and asked him to play it on his viola as he did for us four different ways and without having heard the recording of the voice itself. No. So here are three sentences from a speech made by Mr. Ickes during the
presidential campaign of one thousand forty four. Part of that not only miss it but to really play with fire disqualified. America could not afford to turn to a man who had already arrived at the mission. Well maybe that's not ordinary but rather extraordinary speech Johnny. It represents Mr. Ickes platform style and he was no ordinary campaigner. True but still it's ordinary in the sense of normal English speech with the patterning of English sentence structure and the expressive tone of a person who wants you to pay attention to his words. Well now let's compare that with the viola rendition.
That's a fascinating tune John. Yeah really different. How would you account for the difference between the speech and Sheba's music. Well first I'd say that she wasn't trying to imitate speech he was playing those notes as music. But there are many elements of speech of course that a musical instrument can't handle. You know the indeterminate pitch levels for instance of speech would be way beyond the clarinet say right in ordinary speech our voices aren't limited to the 12 tone scale of the piano. Well when we hear speech in other words we don't listen for particular notes as we do in music. We listen only for contrasts well Mrs. Lowe then could hear these contrasts easily enough but she couldn't locate them on the musical scale. Too many of those notes would be borderline cases and the same kind of difficulty in perception would be true of the rhythmic elements in speech. The Temple varies even within a sentence and the phrasing is extremely elusive. Yeah. In her musical notation you remember the time signature changes five times. Well some of that interesting variety comes through in the viola rendition especially when played
more slowly. Well let's hear Harold Ickes tune again slowly and in a lower register. That's awfully nice. Well we have another version of this and do it for voice and viola but let's save that for the end of the program and turn out of those qualities because earlier to the tune of speech.
In English as in most languages the stream of speech is divisible into two strands on the one hand there are the vowels and consonants and there are indispensable elements in language. But the other stream which we can refer to generally as intonation is really more basic in several ways. Babies for instance learn many of the meanings of the tone of voice before they can talk and they can express themselves in the stream of the language before they can say words. The tone of voice is a kind of physical gesture like smiling or raising a hand in a threatening manner. It's a directly expressive communication code that often cuts across languages and cultures within each language however there is a tune peculiar to that language. It's part of the structure or grammar of the language. It's not easy to demonstrate this difference in the nation between two languages. Well because our ears distort what they hear in strange language yeah. For instance we tend to think that other languages are spoken more rapidly than our own. But I think this is just an illusion. Well I experiment with muffling the voice is of some help here I think. If you put enough
Kleenex in your mouth nothing comes through but the rhythm and the melody. This kind of masking preserves the phrasing. The changes in tempo and the subtle changes in pitch. Here's a little sample of speech not in English as it sounds through a wad of Kleenex. Maybe our audience will be able to identify the language. Now that was German but I doubt that the difference noticeable after all German and English are pretty close relative. Well here's the way English sounds with the words blotted out.
Well that's too close to home for me to be able to analyze very well. But there are some general features of English intonation that we can point out briefly which make up the tune of English grammar. First there is stress or accent. That is the relative volume or loudness of a syllable. Yes the typical two syllable English word has greater stress on the first syllable. Compare the English name Roger Bacon for instance with the French name in meals a la da da with the doctor na. Right. Well another element in English intonation that we've already mentioned is pitch the typical English statement sentence begins with medium pitch and then towards the end the pitch goes up and then down. Like this he plays the piano. He plays it fairly well. Then an eye doc. Well this kind of tune helps us recognize that the speaker is making a statement not asking the question. That's why we say that pitch variations are part of the grammar of English speech. And it's the part incidentally that we don't have to study in school because we've mastered it before we start school. And then there's the matter of pauses.
Yes our words don't flow from us after all in a steady stream but rather come in bunches or clusters and these clusters end with certain kinds of possums and the way we pause lets the listener know something about what's coming next. It's not the length of the pause so much but rather the kind of pitch that we pause on. Another element is the vocal qualifiers. These mostly expressed attitudes and they include such things as shouting fast tempo rasping drawling clipping whispering and so on. Well it's hard to illustrate these but I think I might if I used the word O as we use it normally get some of the obvious ones at least. Or old or. Oh oh oh they're all quite clear in the the attitude. Yeah well let's turn now to a professional actor for a demonstration of the wide range of intonation features available to those who speak English this is a fairly ancient recording of John Barrymore as Hamlet but
saw a Dave Dylan remark less chatter this chatter. Hi there. What had. To happen most really is that I have a day off that might even have been a a little like a hall unpacked my heart with what good I'm all like I think like a garage totally on my break and it's a tremendously versatile performance but I think an actor's repertoire of vocal cymbal seems greater than that of the rest of us. Because we so seldom range so widely during the course of just 50 seconds.
Well society doesn't often allow us to use the full potentiality of intonation. Well that's right too. We spend a great deal of effort after all in our culture teaching children to avoid the extremes in expressive intonation. We're always telling children to lower their voice or speak up but don't matter and so forth. We object I think to emphatic expression of emotion and attitude. And that's part of growing up in our culture of learning the subtleties of the language as operates in our society. We learn to catch the meaning of just tiny variations in intonation a slight rise in pitch in adult speech might convey the same intensity of surprise as a shriek in a small child. Yet we learn a great deal at an early age and we start very young. I'd like our listeners to hear a recording parallel to John Barrymore's. It's about the same length and I think the repertoire is compare fair favorably. This is my friend Paul aged two years in a scene from his nursery.
Right. Well he talks too loud and he mutters too low to Don or else it's too subtle for me. Well you've got the little taunting chant though didn't you. Yes I know what that means I know a secret and so on. But that little chant is not the sole property of the English language. That one belongs to the children of the world. Well John that brings us to the interesting matter of the universality or non universality of certain tones of voice. We've gathered together some
samples of widely different languages to see whether some tones of voice expressing certain feelings and attitudes are the same in different languages. We have recordings of speakers of seven different languages that we can compare to English. Well we presented each of these people with a series of social situations and asked them to respond with an utterance in their own language and in the appropriate tone of voice. Let's hear first from my Venezuelan friend. I asked him to express puzzlement in Spanish in English the situation would evoke this kind of tone. Now why in the world leave so suddenly. Here's the way he said it will get to America they had an attempt on his speech rises at the end of your pitch headed downward. Right. The shape of the whole sentence is different from yours. Done and. And I know yours was just the opposite of that in about an hour. Yeah yeah I asked him to read my English sentence and here's the way he said it. Now why in the world would he leave us with him.
It's the same tune as his Spanish but actually this example doesn't prove much because we can really express puzzlement with both of those tunes. Try his and see if you feel puzzled. OK now why in the world would I leave so suddenly. Well you're right we can accent the word fly or the word suddenly. If we put greater stress on why then we have to end with rising pitch in order to sound puzzled. But we have two choices for the situation. Well on the other hand if we stress both of those words and end with falling pitch we're expressing an entirely different attitude. How do you interpret this now. Why in the world would he leave so suddenly when you're not puzzled at all. You're arguing with me. You don't accept my explanation of this man's behavior and you don't think he really did leave suddenly. But you know I heard some vocal qualifiers in your voice too which I want to try to describe and those helped me get your stone of skepticism. But listen to another example from our Spanish speaker. Here he's expressing a sudden
realisation. My version would be. So that's what you mean. Here's part of my interview with him on this point. First he expresses the idea in Spanish. And for a law that now would you say that money oh ok would you say that one was mine. Oh sure that's what the tune of his Spanish is very close to your English John but his English misses the tone completely. Both times. Yes he seemed confused there as if he felt the English tune ought to be different but he didn't know just how different. Well English intonation is still somewhat beyond his grasp in learning a foreign language it's that part of it that often comes hardest. The tone of sudden realization though should be fairly easy I'm learning many languages. Our speakers on a great deal are like to me when they were expressing this. Here's a man from Africa expressing the idea first in Luganda
and then in English I don't know if you will did you back. Oh so that's what you mean. In Spanish the interjection is hot and in both English and again it's all they all sound like the same to me. Well here's the same thing in Arabic that interjection in Arabic has two syllables but it still has that familiar shape. Oh how hiccup Danny. Well there's a difference in that one. The interjection is the same but the sentence ends like some questions in English like you see what I mean don't you. The pitch rises at the end. Another tone of voice we recorded is that of sarcasm. And I'd like to demonstrate that in two languages Russian and stony and in Russian according to our speakers sarcasm is not expressed in intonation but rather through the insertion of a special syllable the sound chip put into a sentence has the effect of reversing the meaning of the sentence It signals. I mean just the opposite of what I'm saying. The example we use sounds
like this in English. He's a very generous person meaning of course that he's not. Yeah well here's the Russian version is the second syllable added to our own. What you show your kid to. He sounds very sincere to me. I hope our translators in the State Department are catching all the ages in their messages from Khrushchev. Well I'd find it easier to catch Russian Jews than to detect sarcasm in the voice of an historian. Would you feel offended John if someone said this about you. More digging would he tell not to lock in on anybody to know what he sounds like he's trying to console me. Too bad too bad it wash up a little vinegar. Well you must never be appointed to a diplomatic post in the story up. Here's what the Estonian speaker said about his sarcasm. Certainly sir he's a very nice person. Have you seen any study and there is there is only the intonation which will give it to you. I mean there is nothing else.
By saying we didn't win he certainly threw me with a certain intonation. And history will figure out that I certainly don't mean that. Well the other examples we picked out represent the tone of pleading the speaker's arrest play the role of a small child pleading with his mother to give him something he wants very badly. Let's play first the one that sounds least expressive to my English year. This is Chinese. My my the market share and they are now they music of that language Cantonese seems totally strange to me. Probably because Chinese dialects employ as many as seven levels of pitch to distinguish the meanings of words in English of course that isn't the case. Well cultural beliefs also affect the tone of voice and complicated further this question of universality of intonation patterns I discovered this when I recorded a man from India who spoke in Punjabi. Here is his version of the small child pleading.
You know there could be outcome after Bluefield chill. He doesn't sound very persuasive in his pleading. My children going to whine in a very insistent unpleasant and often effective way I know what you mean. Well Indian children may whine sometimes when they want something I don't know but this speaker interpreted the situation we gave him as one that called for flattering the parent. There's a different cultural assumption involved. Here's what he told me his mother. Oh mother you are so nice to me here are you is that in the world or is there something in your voice. You know why I speak a lot in the world what anybody can fake that i should we thought Thank you dearly for trying to be. That
comes naturally enough and humble. That's very interesting he said the tone becomes naturally innocent and humble. I doubt that American parents would consider this natural. Well we have one more example of pleading. This is the man from Africa who speaks Luganda. It's a longer speech and a fascinating one here I think. I seem to catch a whining tone and I'm going to be mad to go down that. I agree with you that there is a familiar whining or nagging tone here but I can't be certain that the line I heard indicates pleading. It might mean bicycle. That's what he told me he was pleading for. Well until we can travel around the world John and live with these languages and absorb the cultures our conclusions on comparative intonation will have to be extremely tentative in general. That's
one thing we can say is that there are two broad categories of intonation. One kind is grammatical. Each language has rigid rules governing this. We have to understand clearly for instance what the subject is. We have to know what the verb is what the modifiers are modifying and so on. The other kind of intonation we can call emotional and grammatical intonation we could say is undoubtedly less universal than emotional and I should know when we express feelings and attitudes. We do so chiefly by intonation and babies before they can talk or capable of this. I'd say then that of these emotional tunes those learned earliest tend to cut across language barriers. Well the sound of surprise them is more universal than the sound of sarcasm or irony right. Preschool children seldom understand sarcasm after all. And good I said they learn grammatical intonation before they go to school and in grammar school they learn sarcasm very good. Well John now we can present the capstone of our experiments with intonation. As you say children learn grammatical intonation early and this is true because of the rigid rules that
all speakers of a language must follow. Well Glenn Bishop our engineer has made it possible to demonstrate this rigidity in English. First we composed a sentence of nine words and we asked nine of our colleagues to read it independently. Here's that sentence as read without any coaching by three of the men of genuine human progress. Absolutely demand sacrificing certain comfortable assumptions. Genuine human progress absolutely demands sacrificing certain comfortable assumptions genuine human progress absolutely demands sacrificing certain comfortable assumptions. Well these are three distinctly different male voices and among those nine men and several American dialects were represented including the dialect of this speaker genuine human progress. Absolutely. The man's sacrifice a certain comfortable assumption that sentence is a ringer of course.
It is the voice of one of the nine men but what we just heard is a composite of the nine words taken from completely different context. When Bishop cut them out of nine other sentences that the speaker read and put them together in this sentence for example the last word assumptions was cut out of this reading. We must consider three things. Assumptions hypotheses and conclusions. Will the in Congress almost meaningless relationships among the words in that false sentence prove clearly that without the appropriate English grammar is just a jumble right. The words are there clearly enough but our intuitive sense of English grammar is confounded. Yes we don't know what is likely to come next. Here's the way that same speaker read the sentence normally with the right tone. Genuine human progress absolutely demands sacrificing certain comfortable assumptions. Well finally Glenn did one more thing. He took one word from the reading of each of the nine men and
put them together. So now we have a composite of nine voices reading the same sentence. And if our ears accept this composite as sounding like the normal tone of English then well let's hear it. Genuine human progress absolutely demands sacrificing certain comfortable assumptions. Well I find that almost magical John. Here we have nine separate individuals joined in almost perfect harmony. Yes I think it's a very striking example of the rigidity of grammatical structure. It's true that the individual differences in voice quality remain but the speakers conform so rigidly to the iron rules of English intonation that they really become one voice. They're like interchangeable parts of extremely complex musical instrument. Well let's listen to it once more. Genuine human progress absolutely demands sacrificing certain comfortable assumptions. Well we said at the early part of the program that we play the
Ikey's and the viola together. And I think that that was a very interesting experiment in showing how the viola and the and the speech corresponded of course they don't correspond exactly they don't quite match but they match phrase for a phrase that is the regularity of the music at times overlaps the pauses of Ikey's. Well we have just enough time now for that premiere performance duet for Viola and speech composed by Catherine Lowe performed by Robert Schieber and Harold Ickes and directed by Glenn bishop. I am not the only one.
Where minds meet
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Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The Keyboard of Speech: Intonation
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Discussions explore world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
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Social Issues
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Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:20
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Chicago: “Where minds meet; Intonation,” 1963-01-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023,
MLA: “Where minds meet; Intonation.” 1963-01-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <>.
APA: Where minds meet; Intonation. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from