English intonation: An introduction

English intonation: An introduction. By J. C. Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. ix, 276. ISBN 9780521683807. $44.99.

Reviewed by Malcolm Ross, The Australian National University

In this volume, J. C. Wells presents a professional, yet nontechnical, account of English intonation that will be both comprehensible and useful to advanced learners of English. The text is written in relatively nontechnical English, uses an easily readable notation in examples, and pays attention to meaning as well as form. Most of the short sections end with numerous exercises, and the accompanying CD includes an audio presentation of a selection of the examples (a few of which, however, sound somewhat unnatural to this native speaker of British English).

Ch. 1 (1–14) introduces the key concepts of tone, tonicity, and tonality; summarizes the functions of intonation in English; explains stress and tone; contrasts English tone with tone in other languages; and explores difficulties that adult learners may experience in acquiring English intonation.

Ch. 2 (15–92) discusses the forms and meanings of three pitch movement patterns (i.e. fall, rise, and fall-rise). W associates tones—and the relationships between tones—with grammatical constructions as well as with a variety of discourse-related functions. The chapter closes with a brief summary of previous interpretations of tonal meanings.

Ch. 3 (93–186) focuses on tonicity, which involves the placement of both the nuclear (intonation phrase final) and prenuclear accents. W’s discussion of nuclear accent deals not only with focus but also with the details of accent placement in relation to function words, adverbials, and phrasal verbs. Although W concludes that tonicity needs more research, he clearly accounts for prenuclear accent placement and demonstrates that intonation and grammatical constructions are related.

Ch. 4 (187–206), on tonality, is much shorter and deals with how speakers chunk speech into intonation phrases, a process that W claims ‘function[s] in much the same way in all languages’ (187) and thus should not be difficult to learners of English. Chunking is inextricably bound to tonicity because focus choices simultaneously determine both nuclear accent placement and chunking.

Ch. 5 (207–45) builds on the previous chapters. W expands his discussion of the three tones introduced in Ch. 2, exploring their variants and their meanings. The description of prenuclear accents from Ch. 3 is extended to include their placement, their pitch, and their relationship to lexical stress as well as the information-bearing and focus functions of these choices.

In Ch. 6 (246–58), W explores pedagogical issues, including questions about intonation in oral examinations and four passages for analysis accompanied by model answers.

The appendix (259–62), which summarizes and compares the intonation notation used in this volume to other systems (e.g. tones and break indices [ToBI]), is followed by a key to the exercises, the references, and an index.

Intended for language learners, this text avoids phonological technicalities but is sufficiently detailed, systematic, and explicit in its coverage of English intonation to serve as an introduction for linguists whose training has not covered this area. However, W has decided—understandably for a language teaching textbook—not to clutter his prose with references: although the bibliography covers the major works on English intonation, W does not indicate to whom he owes the various features of his account, nor the points at which he makes an original contribution or differs from other analysts.