Melodics of Speech

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Melodics of Speech


the complete tonal system of a given language; the change in the basic tonal frequency during the pronunciation of a phrase. The melodies of speech, temporal speech characteristics (tempo, pauses, expressive lengthening), and speech intensity constitute the intonation of speech.

Basic tonal frequency is measured in hertzes (Hz). The melodies of speech is also measured in musical intervals (fourths, fifths, and so on). The melodies of speech studies the syllable, the word, and the phrase. In tonal languages (such as Vietnamese and Chinese), it is used to distinguish meanings of words by the type of melodic movement within a syllable or by the syllable’s position (musical intonation).

In all languages, the melodies of speech fulfills emotional and grammatical functions. It is customary to make a general distinction between the grammatically significant part of a phrase (usually the zone of the last stressed syllable of a phrase, which includes the pretonic and posttonic syllables) and the grammatically insignificant part (the beginning and middle of the utterance). In the melodies of speech, special methods are applied to segment a sentence into phrases and syntagmas. The melodies of speech also indicates the type of utterance. In most languages, there are affirmative, interrogative, exclamatory, and incomplete utterances; for example,“You were at the theater” (affirmative),“You were at the theater?” (interrogative),“You were at the theater!” (exclamatory), and “You were at the theater when I came” (incomplete). The melodies of speech may also isolate and emphasize individual elements of an utterance; for example, “You were at the theater,”“You were at the theater,”and “You were at the theater.”

The melodies of every language are represented by a number of set structures with their phonetic variants. The melodies of speech has been described by a system of melodic levels (from low to high) and by a system of contours (graphic representation in the form of a curve). A special device, the intonograph, is used to study the melodies of speech.


Bryzgunova, E. A. Zvuki i intonatsiia russkoi rechi. Moscow, 1972.
Nikolaeva, T. M. Intonatsiia slozhnogo predlozheniia v slavianskikh iazykakh. Moscow, 1969.
Bagmut, A. I. Intonatsiina budova prostoho rozpovidnoho rechennia u slov’ians’kykh movakh. Kiev, 1970.
Pike, K. The Intonation of American English. Ann Arbor, 1963.
Daneš, F. Intonace a věta ve spisovné češtině. Prague, 1957.
O’Connor, J. D., and G. F. Arnold. Intonation of Colloquial English. London, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.