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1. Music the opening of a piece of plainsong, sung by a soloist
2. Music
a. the correct or accurate pitching of intervals
b. the capacity to play or sing in tune
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the aggregate of phonetic means of language, which when applied to a series of pronounced and audible syllables fulfills several functions: (1) organizes speech phonetically, breaking it down according to its meaning into sentences and significant segments, or syntagms; (2) establishes the semantic relationships between the parts of the sentence; (3) gives the sentence, and sometimes the syntagms, a declarative, interrogative, imperative, or other meaning; and (4) expresses various emotions. The phonetic bases of intonation (intonational means) are the distribution of the strength of the dynamic (or expiratory) stress among words (the accentual system), the melody of speech, pauses, the tempo of speech and its separate segments, rhythmic and melodic aspects, the loudness of speech and its separate segments, and the emotional nuances of the voice timbre.

As an important element in language, intonation is correlated with other linguistic means: grammatical forms (for example, the imperative mood of the verb), interrogative and exclamatory words and particles, conjunctions, and word order. Intonation is always present in speech; without it speech is impossible. Quite often intonation serves as the only means within a sentence to express certain elements of meaning.

Various languages do not use intonational means in the same way. In Russian and the Germanic languages the distribution of stress intensity and the melody of speech serve as the basic means for expressing the logical predicative relationships. In French, on the other hand, this function is quite frequently carried out by other grammatical means (the descriptive turn of phrase). At the same time, various languages reveal significant similarities in intonation. Thus, in almost all languages the declarative meaning is expressed by a melodic falling intonation at the end of the sentence, and the interrogative meaning by a noticeable melodic rise of one of the syllables. Before a pause within a sentence the voice is usually raised (except in certain cases).

Outside the linguistic system proper, the greatest intonational similarity among the most varied languages is revealed with regard to the variation of emotional timbres of the voice. Because it expresses the most subtle nuances in the speaker’s feelings and particularly in his psychological makeup, intonation is one of the principal means used to portray character on the stage, in films, and in concert readings.

In writing, intonation is expressed to some extent through punctuation and by other graphic means (for example, paragraphs, underlined words, and variations in type). There is not, however, a full correspondence between intonation and punctuation. The range of meanings and semantic relations expressed by intonation is significantly broader than that which can be expressed by punctuation, especially when conveying emotion. Intonation makes speech much more concrete than written texts.


Bernshtein, S. I. “Materialy dlia bibliografii po voprosam frazovoi in-tonatsii.” In Eksperimental’naia fonetika i psikhologiia v obuchenii inostrannomu iazyku. Moscow, 1940.
Zlatoustova, L. V. Foneticheskaia struktura slova v potoke rechi. Kazan, 1962.
Bryzgunova, E. A. Prakticheskaia fonetika i intonatsiia russkogo iazyka. Moscow, 1963.
Lieberman, P. Intonation, Perception, and Language. Cambridge, Mass., 1967.
Pike, K. L. The Intonation of American English. Ann Arbor, 1947.
Lehiste, J. Suprasegmentals. Cambridge, Mass.–London, 1970.




in music. (1) A concept in music theory and aesthetics with several interrelated meanings. In the broad sense, it denotes the arrangement of musical sounds (tones) according to pitch (as compared with rhythm, the organization of sounds according to temporal quality). Musical intonation is distinguished from the organization of sounds in speech in that the sounds are arranged according to pitch and are subordinate to a system of harmony.

Intonation is also taken to signify the manner of musical expression, which determines the music’s meaning (defined by the feelings in the music), syntactic meaning (affirmative, interrogative), characteristic aspect (national, social), and genre (intonation of a song, aria, recitative). The expressiveness of musical intonation is a function of associations people make, as conditioned by auditory experience, above all speech, and upon certain psychophysiological preconditions.

In the narrow sense, intonation denotes the smallest amalgam of tones in a musical expression containing relatively autonomous expressive meaning, a semantic cell (unit) in music. Such an intonation usually consists of two or three sounds, but sometimes only one. Most frequently a small part of the melody, the intonation, and its expressiveness are influenced by rhythm, harmony, and timbre. Sometimes intonation is called, metaphorically, a “musical word.” However, in contrast to speech, intonation in music does not have a precisely defined, concrete meaning. Only conditionally can “intonational vocabulary” be described as the aggregate of intonations that are employed by a composer or group of composers or that are present in the music of many countries in a designated period (“intonational vocabulary of the epoch”).

An attempt to work out a theory of musical intonation was undertaken in classical times, and it was continued through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. An important contribution was made by French Enlightenment figures (J.-J. Rousseau) and musicians influenced by them (A. Grétry, C. W. Gluck), and later by progressive Russian composers and music critics of the 19th century (A. S. Dargomyzhskii, A. N. Serov, and M. P. Mussorgsky). The ideas of Russian and foreign musicians regarding the intonational nature of music were synthesized and developed by B. V. Asaf ’ev, who created an intonational theory of composition, performance, and perception; profound and fruitful, though not without contradictions, his theory is still being developed in the USSR and other socialist countries.

(2) In musical performance, the degree of acoustic precision in the pitch of the sounded tones and their interrelationship. Intonation is perceived by the ear as being good when the frequency of the tone sounded falls within the area, or zone, of frequencies close to the absolute pitch of the tone.

(3) In the production and tuning of musical instruments with fixed tonal pitch (piano, organ), the evenness and exactness of each sound of the scale in pitch, loudness, and timbre.


Asaf’ev, B. V. (I. Glebov). Muzykal’naia forma kak protsess. Leningrad, 1963.
Intonatsiia i muzykal’nyi obraz: Stat’i i issledovaniia muzykovedov Sovetskogo Soiuza i drugikh sotsiatisticheskikh stran. Edited by B. M. Iaru-stovskii. Moscow, 1965.
Shakhnazarova, N. G. lntonatsionnyi slovar’ i problema narodnosti muzyki. Moscow, 1966.
Jiránek, J. Asafjevova teorie intonace, jejígeneze a vyznam. Prague, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Navarro Tomas was the first linguist to claim that Spanish has an imperative intonation. In his groundbreaking study, Navarro Tomas (1974 [1944]) provides a thorough description of intonational types in Spanish (declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives) with an impressionistic description of each proposed category.
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Although other British accents have recognisable intonations, the particularly melodic nature of the Welsh accent with its rises and falls in pitch, thought to have developed as a result of the influence of the Welsh language, is unique.