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This paper addresses the phonological stratum as an integral part of the language system. As EFL teacher trainers, we often find that students isolate the different meaning-creating components of language as a natural result of the way courses are organized at university level. It is in the spirit of helping students integrate the various aspects of language and context that we have set out to compare David Brazil, Malcolm Coulthard and Catherine Johns’s Discourse Intonation model –which we have been working with for more than ten years– with the intonation approach in Systemic Functional Linguistics, by M.A.K. Halliday and William Greaves. We observe the theoretical similarities between the two approaches in order to see how they may supplement one another. Then, we analyse a conversation taken from a film following both theoretical approaches, and draw conclusions in the light of the comparison. Our preliminary results show that the two approaches explain the meanings conveyed with reference to different meaning-making resources. Brazil et al. explain the meanings at risk in the interaction according to the phonological systems they describe (prominence, tone, key and termination). Halliday and Greaves do so by referring to the phonological and lexico-grammatical strata in combination.
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Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • July -December 2011. Vol. 13 • Number 2 • Bogotá, Colombia. p. 100-113
Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
Entonación en el Discurso y la Fonología Sistémico
Funcional
Miriam P. Germani
Facultad de Ciencias Humanas, Universidad Nacional de La Pampa
La Pampa,Argentina
Email: miriamgermani@yahoo.com.ar
Lucía I. Rivas
Facultad de Ciencias Humanas, Universidad Nacional de La Pampa
La Pampa,Argentina
Email: luciairivas@gmail.com
Abstract
This paper is a reection on praxis which addresses the phonological stratum as an integral part of the language system. As EFL teacher
trainers, we often nd that students isolate the different meaning-creating components of language as a natural result of the way courses are
organized at university level. It is in the spirit of helping students integrate the various aspects of language and context that we have set out
to compare David Brazil, Malcolm Coulthard and Catherine Johns’s Discourse Intonation model –which we have been working with for more
than ten years– with the intonation approach in Systemic Functional Linguistics, by M.A.K. Halliday and William Greaves. We observe the
theoretical similarities between the two approaches in order to see how they may supplement one another. Then, we analyse a conversation
taken from a lm following both theoretical approaches, and draw conclusions in the light of the comparison. Our preliminary results show that
the two approaches explain the meanings conveyed with reference to different meaning-making resources. Brazil et al. explain the meanings
at risk in the interaction according to the phonological systems they describe (prominence, tone, key and termination). Halliday and Greaves
do so by referring to the phonological and lexico-grammatical strata in combination.
key words: intonation; tonality, tonicity and tone; discourse intonation; conversation; teaching
Resumen
Este trabajo es una reexión sobre la práctica que estudia el estrato fonológico como parte integral del sistema de la lengua. Como
docentes de Profesorado de Inglés como lengua extranjera, a menudo observamos que los estudiantes tienden a aislar los diferentes
elementos lingüísticos que componen el signicado de la lengua como consecuencia natural del modo en el que se segmentan los contenidos
en los cursos universitarios. Con el objetivo de contribuir a que los estudiantes integren los distintos aspectos del lenguaje y el contexto, nos
abocamos a la comparación de los sistemas fonológicos propuestos por David Brazil, Malcolm Coulthard y Catherine Johns –que hemos
seguido en los últimos años– y por M.A.K. Halliday y William Greaves. Exploramos las similitudes teóricas de los dos enfoques para evaluar
sus contribuciones en vistas a una visión más integrada de la fonología. Por lo tanto, analizamos una conversación tomada de una película
según ambos enfoques y llegamos a conclusiones a la luz de la comparación. Nuestros resultados preliminares muestran que ambos
enfoques explican los signicados transmitidos con referencia a distintos recursos de sentido. Brazil et al. explican los signicados en juego
en la interacción según los sistemas fonológicos que ellos describen (prominence, tone, key y termination). Halliday y Greaves lo hacen con
referencia a una combinación entre los estratos fonológico y léxico-gramatical.
Palabras clave: entonación; tonalidad, tonicidad y tono; entonación del discurso; conversación; enseñanza
REFLECTION ON PRAXIS
Received May 25th 2011/ Accepted: August 30th 2011
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Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
Introduction
This paper is framed within the research
project “Studies in Phonology: in search of an
integrating approach”, which is being carried out
at the Foreign Languages Department, National
University of La Pampa, Argentina. The project
aims at exploring the phonological component
as an integral part of language. We study
suprasegmental and paralinguistic features as
seen by different theoretical approaches in order
to observe the relationship between intonation
and meaning. As EFL teacher trainers in charge
of phonology classes, and given the intangible
and elusive nature of spoken language, we aim
at finding tools to help our students use and
understand oral language and the meaning-
making resources at play in interaction. For that
purpose, we use as a corpus conversations taken
from film scenes and from EFL textbooks for
advanced learners –materials which are frequently
used in the phonology classrooms for imitation
and analysis. Even though these materials
are not fully authentic, they resemble real-life
situations; and the actors performing imitate –and
sometimes exaggerate– features of spontaneous
speech. This fact makes these resources suitable
for teaching the oral language to students in an
EFL environment.
The phonology syllabus at the institution
where we work organizes the teaching of English
phonetics and phonology along the four academic
years. The courses integrate segmental and
suprasegmental aspects, and the last two focus
specifically on prosodic features. The approach
is discoursal, aiming at the exploration of the
role played by suprasegmental features in the
construction of meaning within situated text
analysis. For this purpose, David Brazil, Malcolm
Coulthard and Catherine Johns’s Discourse
Intonation model was considered to be the most
suitable and has been used for the last ten years.
However, since students of English as a foreign
language (including Spanish speaking learners)
lack the insights native speakers have of the
English code, we frequently find it necessary
to supplement Brazil’s approach with materials
that will help learners to more fully understand
the functions of intonation, the location of the
nucleus and the effect of paralinguistic features
on the message, among others.
As in most language teacher training
colleges, in our programme the linguistic code
is divided into subjects that deal separately with
linguistics, grammar, phonology. This is suitable
to study the system, but it frequently leads
students to isolate the various components of
language, thus preventing them from observing
these elements as part of a whole. In the field
of phonology teaching, this fact means that
students often apply meaning labels on the
basis of intonation alone, rather than consider
intonation choices as aspects of meaning in
combination with other linguistic elements or
features of context. It is in the spirit of helping
students to integrate the various aspects of
language and context that we have set out to
study Systemic Functional Linguistics and to
compare it with Discourse Intonation. We consider
that M.A.K. Halliday and William Greaves’ more
comprehensive perspective will help students to
see phonology as a stratum which contributes
to build the meaning of an utterance together
with other strata, and that each choice at the
phonological level has an effect on, but is also
conditioned by, the other levels.
In this particular work we explore the
meanings expressed by intonation in a
conversation taken from a film. We analyze
it following the two different phonological
approaches, those developed in Halliday and
Greaves (2008) Intonation in the Grammar of
English and in Brazil, Coulthard and Johns (1990)
Discourse Intonation and Language Teaching
and Brazil (1997) The Communicative Value
Germani, M., Rivas, L. (2011) Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
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of Intonation in English to compare how they
address the explanation of phonological choices.
Literature Review
Having explored both approaches, we
found more similarities than differences in their
underlying bases. To begin with, both of them
understand language similarly: they consider it
as a system network with which human beings
create meaning by selecting items from that
system in a paradigmatic way, so that the choice
of one element entails the rejection of the other/s.
Thus language creates meaning by establishing
contrasts. In addition, each system combines with
other systems in a syntagmatic way, with each
choice limiting and conditioning further choices
in the horizontal chain. Both approaches consider
phonology as a meaning making system within
the wider context in which the text is situated.
The most important difference, then, springs
from the fact that Brazil et al. (1980) consider
the intonation system as separated from the
grammar, while Halliday and Greaves (2008)
integrate both systems into the same picture.
But this fundamental difference is less significant
when we observe that the former very often refer to
lexico-grammatical choices in their explanations,
though they do not delve into these choices as
part of their system. Halliday and Greaves, on
the other hand, view these choices as part of a
comprehensive system that aims at observing
interrelations among choices at different levels.
We observe that differences in both perspectives
are often limited to points of departure for the
analysis, but that they seem to arrive at similar
conclusions in terms of the meanings negotiated.
Halliday and Greaves’(2008) system
analyses language in four different strata
that represent different levels of abstraction,
understanding that each superior stratum is
realized in the one immediately below. These
strata are, from top to bottom, the semantics,
the lexico-grammar, the phonology and the
phonetics. Although there are necessary links and
relationships among the different strata, the units
of analysis for each stratum do not necessarily
coincide with units at other strata. This means
that every stratum has a particular descriptive
framework. Brazil et al. (1980) argue that
language can be segmented into hierarchically
arranged sets of units corresponding to three
independent linguistic levels of analysis: grammar,
discourse and phonology and that when these
three levels meet, the point of encounter has
added significance. Earlier in the book, they
state “We, however, see intonation as the carrier
of context-specific, speaker-created meanings,
which cross-cut the semantics of the language
system” (p.46). We perceive here that while
Halliday and Greaves (2008) emphasize the
interdependence of the levels of analysis, Brazil et
al. stress the independence of the systems, though
they recognize the interactions among them.
Halliday and Greaves (2008) see intonation
realizing interpersonal, textual and logical
meanings, as proportional meanings in the
grammar, depending on the lexico-grammatical
environment. In the same way, Brazil et al. (1980)
[...] see the description of intonation as
one aspect of the description of interaction
and argue that intonation choices carry
information about the structure of the
interaction, the relationship between
and the discourse function of individual
utterances, the interactional ‘given-ness’
and ‘newness’ of information and the
state of convergence and divergence of
the participants. (p.11 emphasis added)
As previously stated, these authors do not link
the meanings of intonation to the grammar,
but to the environment or the context in which
utterances are said. In Halliday and Greaves’
terms, they bypass the grammar and go directly
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Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
from the phonology to the semantics. Halliday
and Greaves raise the question of the risk of doing
this and explain that “the lexicogrammar is the
theoretical construct that enables us to explain
the semogenic (meaning-making) power of
language as a whole –provided that we present it
in a comprehensive account” (p.51).
At the phonological stratum, Halliday and
Greaves (2008) recognize three systems: tonality,
tonicity and tone, which have implications
in the meanings derived from intonation and
which realise systems in the grammar. For
Brazil et al. (1980) the intonation systems are
prominence, key, tone and termination and they
are independent from any grammatical system.
However, they make the following concession:
Of course most utterances are susceptible
to clause analysis and both the theme/
rheme structure of English clauses and
typical cohesion devices mean that there is
a tendency for items which are likely to be
made prominent to occur at the end of the
clause, and thus increase the plausibility
of Halliday’s explanation. (p. 46)
Halliday and Greaves (2008) define the highest
phonological unit as the tone unit, which
manifests decisions as regards the system of
tonality. This unit functions as the realization of
the information unit, a unit of the lexico-grammar
stratum. Both units organize the flow of discourse,
the former at the phonological level and the latter
at the grammatical level. Though the authors
postulate a one to one correspondence between
these two units, they posit that boundaries do not
necessarily coincide exactly, since the tone unit
consists of a certain number of feet coinciding
with their boundaries, whereas the information
unit is usually coextensive with the clause.
For Brazil, (1997) the tone unit is “a stretch of
language that carries the systematically-opposed
features of intonation” (p.3), and its boundaries
are established by the system of prominence. He
understands this unit as a unit of thought. Hence,
the tone unit carries information load which
shows the speakers’ parcelling of their message.
He states that tone unit boundaries are not really
important, since the information is concentrated
in the tonic segment, that is, between the onset
(first prominent syllable) and the tonic (last
prominent syllable).
With respect to tonicity, Halliday and Greaves
(2008) state the advantage of dealing with this
system from the point of view of the lexico-
grammar. They relate the tonic syllable to the
concept of focus of information. The placing of the
tonic signals the element that is new, “either the
entire new or the culmination of the new” (p.57).
Elements preceding the tonic may be given or
new, depending on the scope of focus signalled
by lexico-grammatical features. They claim that
the phonology does not determine the given/
new status of information. On the other hand,
Brazil et al. (1980) consider that phonological
choices in the system of prominence, rather than
in the grammar, single out the informing matter,
though they concede that “all else in the tone
unit is presented as recoverable because it is
grammatically or semantically predictable” (p.41)
For Halliday and Greaves (2008) the tone
system consists of five simple tones which realise
a single focus and two compound ones realising a
dual focus; all these constitute the seven primary
tones in the system. These may be preceded by
pretonic elements whose “contour patterns are
tied to those of the Tonic, in the sense that the
range of possible patterns of Pretonic depends on
which Tonic is chosen. Each type of Tonic has
a different set of Pretonic possibilities” (p.43).
Brazil et al.’s (1980) system is similar as regards
the five simple tones, as they recognize basically
the same pitch movements. Moreover, if there
is a pretonic element, Brazil explains it as the
speaker’s choice in the system of key, which is
Germani, M., Rivas, L. (2011) Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • Bogotá, Colombia. Pages 100-113
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realised on the onset syllable. This system shows
paradigmatic selections in pitch level –high, mid
and low– which are independent from the tone,
and which have a separate set of meanings.
In the Systemic approach, tone choices
realise meanings of the interpersonal metafunction,
“expressing the attitudes of the speaker towards
the listener and towards the content of his or
her own message” (Halliday & Greaves, 2008,
p.50). These are systematised as KEY, a system
in the lexicogrammar realised in the phonology.
Within this system, the meaning expressed by the
phonological choices will depend on the way in
which they combine with the lexicogrammatical
mood choices, giving origin to a wide range of
possibilities; that is to say, tone 1 with a declarative
mood has a different meaning from the same tone
in combination with an interrogative mood. In the
Discourse Intonation approach, tone choices have
abstract meanings which hold for every occasion
the tones are used, independently from other
linguistic choices. Unlike the other approach,
the basic meaning distinction is between falling
and falling-rising tones, the other three choices
seen as marked options showing an increment
in meaning. Meanings are also interpersonal
since they manifest the speakers’ concern about
the information value of their message for the
listeners. Hence, they will present information
as new, stating a divergent stance, when using
proclaiming (falling) tones, and as shared,
with a convergent stance, when using referring
(rising) tones. In addition, tones also manifest the
symmetry/asymmetry of the relationship between
the interactants, with rising-falling and rising tones
showing the increment of meaning that marks
the speaker as linguistically dominant. The level
tone indicates that the speaker is stepping outside
the negotiation of meaning, and thus outside the
interpersonal function.
The last of the systems that Brazil et al.
(1980) deal with is the system of termination, that
is, the choice of pitch level –high, mid and low–
on the tonic syllable. This brings about different
meanings which are independent from all other
phonological or linguistic choices. Halliday and
Greaves (2008) also perceive differences with
respect to the pitch level of the tonic (high, mid
and low). These are what they call the direct
secondary tones, “since they are directly related
to the primary ones: they are just more finely
specified variants within the given primary tone”
(p.164).
Method
For the purpose of this paper, we have
selected a conversation taken from a scene of the
film Four Weddings and a Funeral (Polygram Film
Entertainment, 1994) which has been transcribed
following Halliday and Greaves’ (2008) framework
(see Appendix). We have used the computer
program for sound analysis Praat (http://www.
fon.hum.uva.nl/praat/) to ascertain the pitch
choices we perceived auditorily. The analysis that
follows has been organized alternating Halliday
and Greaves’ approach (i) with that of Brazil et
al. (ii) with the intention of making similarities
and differences explicit for each exchange. After
each set of explanations, a comparison follows,
where we briefly discuss our views. Praat acoustic
graphs illustrate the first exchange.
Analysis and Discussion
The selected scene takes place at a wedding
party in which six guests sit at a table occupying
previously assigned places. Not all the interactants
know one another, so they engage in some small
talk while waiting to be served. Following Brazil
et al. we could say that the conversation is
linguistically symmetrical since all the participants
have the same rights as regards speaking roles.
They all assert dominance at different times by
making use of some of the phonological resources
at their disposal. In Halliday and Greaves’ terms,
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Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
we could contextualize the conversation taking
into account the Field –small talk–, the Mode –
spoken spontaneous – and the Tenor –informal,
shared power.
a) First exchange
Alistair: // 1- ^ there are / four / hundred /
different kinds of */ tea //
// 1. ^ and / that’s not in/cluding all
these / so-called */ fruit teas //
// 1. ^ I-I took Ve/ronica out to /
India at */ Christmas //
// 1. ^ to / look at the plan*/tations //
Charles: *// 1. Excellent //
(i) The first speaker is Alistair, who proposes
the topic for the conversation. He produces the
longest move in the whole interaction, and his
contribution consists of declarative clauses.
Though he does not name the following speaker,
he directs his eye gaze to Charles, the only other
male participant. His first two tone units match
two clauses in a paratactic relation, thus tonality
is unmarked. The last clause has been divided into
two tone units, making tonality a marked choice.
The second unit, which is a non finite clause,
displays tone concord (tone 1.) with the finite
clause, integrating their meaning into one piece
of information. Tone choice is neutral throughout.
Charles acknowledges the information received
with a minor clause with declarative key and
unmarked tone.
(ii) Alistair uses high key in the first tone unit
to start the conversation and he uses a succession
of proclaiming tones in additive mid key, which
present information as new from a divergent
stance, showing his knowledge of the subject.
He ends his turn with mid termination, expecting
a passive contribution on the part of the next
speaker, that is, a mid key answer that expresses
agreement on the topic. Charles complies by
means of an evaluative term.
Comparison: As regards tone meanings,
Halliday and Greaves state that the function of
declarative clauses is to present information and
the unmarked tone for this function is tone 1.
This coincides with the meaning expressed by
proclaiming tones in Discourse Intonation. As
regards pitch level, this last approach relates a
high onset with the presentation of a new topic,
independent of the tone used, a choice not
considered by the first approach. The unifying
effect of tone concord in Halliday and Greaves is
explained in Brazil et al. through additive mid key.
b) Second exchange
Alistair: // 1+ 3 ^ I be/lieve you and */ her /
went there */ once //
Charles: // 1. that’s */ right //
(i) The third contribution by Alistair shows
unmarked tonality and a compound tone 13,
with major focus on the first part of the projected
clause, the agent, and an addition of strong
declarative key, showing a contrast as regards the
people involved. Charles again acknowledges in
the same way as in the previous exchange, with
tone 1.
(ii) Alistair addresses Charles directly using
two tone units. The first one, proclaimed and
divergent, states his belief; and the second one
is referred to, pointing backwards to his previous
turn and using the dominant version to transfer
control of the discourse. Charles answers as
expected, on a mid key with a proclaiming tone,
confirming that Alistair’s belief is right.
Comparison: In this exchange, the
explanation for the compound tone, giving
more weight to the information on the first part,
matches the explanation for the use of proclaiming
followed by referring, as this last tone has less
information value because it presents information
as shared. However, there are discrepancies as
regards tonality, as Brazil et al. consider each
pitch movement as a separate unit.
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c) Third exchange
Veronica: // 1. Charles was */ vile // 1+ ^ he in/
sisted on / cracking */ jokes //
// 1+ all the / time I was */ ill //
Charles: // 4. ^ just / trying to / cheer you */ up
Ve //
(i) Veronica starts her participation in the
conversation with a topically related declarative
clause, using neutral tone 1. Her second clause
consists of two tone units, thus tonality is marked.
However, the tone concord presents the two
information units as if they were only one, the
resource of tone concord being exploited as it
would otherwise be an inordinately long tone unit
(Halliday & Greaves, 2008:134). This second
independent clause has strong declarative key
with tone 1+, the same tone as the previous
clause, manifesting the logical-semantic relation
of enhancement, spelling out what she means by
“vile”. Charles intervenes with a declarative clause
with tone 4, tonality and tonicity unmarked.
His key is one of reservation, and in this case it
stresses a contrast in the point of view of the two
participants with respect to Charles’s behaviour.
While Veronica evaluates it as “vile”, he qualifies
it as “cheering you up”.
(ii) Veronica starts her contribution with a
mid key, adding to the topic of conversation, and
she uses proclaiming tones in the three units to
tell her interlocutors about Charles’s behaviour
at the time in question. She ends up with a high
termination manifesting her expectation of an
active, involved answer in high key. Charles takes
the floor to offer an explanation. However, he does
not comply with the expectation set up by the
previous termination, showing that he does not
agree with Veronica’s point of view. He tempers
this attitude by means of a convergent non-
dominant referring tone, presenting his utterance
as shared, which suggests that he expects the
participants to understand “cracking jokes” as
“cheering up”. His termination is mid to express
his expectation of agreement.
Comparison: The interpersonal relationship
described as strong in one approach may be
associated with the expectation expressed
by a high termination in the other approach,
namely an active participation on the part of the
interlocutor. As regards Charles’s intervention,
his reserved interpersonal key matches the non-
compliant behaviour in the second approach.
d) Fourth exchange
Nicky: // 5. ^ oh you’re */ that ve/ronica //
Veronica: // 1. which Ve*/ronica // 2. Charlie //
(i) Nicky reacts with a strong interpersonal
key, tone 5 on a declarative, with tonality
unmarked but marked tonicity to de-accent the
last noun, which is repeated. Veronica steps in
with a lexical question; tonality, tonicity and tone
are neutral. Then she nominates her intended
addressee with a querying key on the vocative.
(ii) At this point, Nicky intervenes by breaking
pitch concord, with high key and termination and
a divergent, dominant proclaiming tone (p+).
In this way she openly expresses her surprise
at meeting “that Veronica”, with a tone that
implies the information is presented as doubly
new, i.e. new for both listener and speaker. She
simultaneously selects Veronica as the next
speaker and expects confirmation. Veronica takes
the floor with a proclaiming questioning move that
initiates a new exchange seeking information.
Then she selects her next interlocutor by means of
a dominant referring tone on the vocative, which
is accompanied by a high termination, demanding
an involved answer from Charles.
Comparison: The strong interpersonal key
matches the dominant stance, both explanations
pointing to the exclamative force of Nicky’s
utterance. The neutral tone choice for Veronica’s
lexical question can be related with the seeking
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Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
information meaning. The querying key on the
vocative matches the dominant effect of the rising
tone, which demands an answer.
e) Fifth exchange:
Charles: // 2. ^ re/member Bom*/bay //
Nicky: // 4. ^ when / Charles and */ I were going
/ out //
// 4 ^ he / told me he’d / had this /
interesting / journey round */ India with
//
// 1+ vomiting ve*/ronica I... // 1- ^ I /
think that was */ it //
(i) Charles answers with another question,
querying about their shared experience, using
the same intonation choices as Veronica’s. Nicky
takes the floor to explain what she meant by
“that Veronica”. She produces a long declarative
statement with marked tonality (one clause, three
tone units), with the first two units with tone 4 and
4, the unmarked tone choice to show a hypotactic
dependency, which is highlighted by the contigent
effect of the second one (4). This clause ends with
tone 1+, showing strong interpersonal key. Finally,
she softens her accusation with a mild declarative
key (neutral tone 1-) on her modalised statement.
(ii) Charles accepts the speaker role.
However, instead of answering the question,
he opens a new pair by asking with dominant
referring tone, trying to remind Veronica of the
situation. Nicky takes up the speaking role
again to answer Veronica’s question. She starts
reporting what Charles had told her using referring
tones on the first two units, making reference to
the trip already mentioned in the conversation.
Her last two units have proclaiming tones, the
first one informing about Veronica’s nickname
and the last one expressing her belief that she
remembered correctly. The low termination in the
last unit closes the pitch sequence, manifesting
her intention not to go on.
Comparison: The effect of the falling rising
tone on the first two units is explained in the first
approach by stressing the dependency status
of these on the third unit which has falling tone.
In the second approach, this is shown by the
lower informative value of the referring tone in
comparison with what is proclaimed. Brazil et
al. relate the low pitch on the last tonic with the
closure of the topic, as a choice independent
from tone.
f) Sixth exchange
Charles: // 1. ^ I... I / don’t remember / ever */
mentioning it //
// 4. maybe */ maybe I / did //
Martha: // 1. ^ oh */ come on / Charles //
// 1+ ^ I / don’t think I’ve / ever been */
out with / anyone less dis/creet //
(i) Charles goes on justifying his behaviour
using neutral tone 1 in his declarative statement.
The awkwardness of the situation is manifested
by his hesitant beginning. Then he admits the
possibility of having been indiscreet with a
modalised declarative expressing reservation with
a 4 tone. The marked tonicity falls on the modal,
stressing this defensive attitude which adds to the
hesitant repetition of the term. Martha joins in the
conversation with a summoning exclamation with
vocative key (tone 1.) and goes on with a plain
accusation in a declarative clause with strong key.
The tonicity is marked, with the tonic on the last
element of the new. The rest of the unit is given as
it has been presupposed in the conversation so far.
(ii) Charles starts his answer with a
proclaiming tone, stating his opinion, and
continues with level tone on “maybe” followed
by a short pause, hence temporarily directing
his attention to language organization (oblique
orientation) and finishing his turn with a referring
tone which acknowledges the possibility of the
veracity of Nicky’s words. Martha expresses her
Germani, M., Rivas, L. (2011) Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • Bogotá, Colombia. Pages 100-113
108 108 108 108 108
disagreement by using divergent proclaiming
tones in order to make Charles admit his lack
of discretion. She finishes her move with a
high termination, expecting confirmation of her
opinion.
Comparison: We believe that the hesitant
beginning of the two units is explained
following the first approach by appealing to the
lexicogrammatical choices and the use of pause,
without considering tone choices. Following
the second approach, we interpret pauses as a
division of tone units, often marking incompletion,
and we consider the level tone –sustention of
pitch– as an indicator of the speaker’s concern for
the way in which the message is encoded rather
than for the transmission of the message itself.
Thus, hesitation is explained in terms of different
choices by the two approaches.
g) Seventh exchange
Charles: // 2. ^ well I / think that’s / probably a
/ bit of an exagge*/ration is it / not //
Nicky: // 4. ^ it is */ not //
(i) Charles continues defending himself
with a declarative clause with querying tone 2,
reinforced by the use of an appealing tag which,
although it is out of the scope of focus, completes
the rising pitch movement. Tonality and tonicity
are unmarked. Nicky responds to Charles’s
query with a negative short answer against his
expectations, manifested by the tag. She uses
neutral tone 4 to reinforce the contrast with her
interlocutor’s opinion.
(ii) Charles seeks solidarity from the rest of
the participants by using a dominant, convergent
referring tone and mid termination on his answer.
Nicky’s “It is not!” on a high key breaks pitch
concord and shows contrast with Charles’s
view. However, she softens the impact of her
disagreement by choosing a convergent, non-
dominant referring tone.
Comparison: The idea of contrast in Nicky’s
turn is also manifested differently in the two
approaches. While following Halliday and Greaves
we consider it the result of the tone choice,
following Brazil et al., we associate it to the choice
of pitch level on the onset.
h) Eighth exchange
Martha: // 4. I remember you going / on about
this / girl //
*// 2. Helena was it // 1. ^ whose /
mother made a */pass at you //
Veronica: // 4. ^ I re/member */ this //
// 1+ ^ you / couldn’t / work it / out
whether it would be / impo/lite not to
ac/cept her ad*/vances //
Nicky: // 1+ ^ that’s */ right // 1+ ^ Mrs */
Piggy // 1. Helena was / Miss */ Piggy
//
// 1+ ^ so her / mother was */ Mrs Piggy
//
(i) Martha’s contribution displays marked
tonicity with tone 4 on the pronoun “I”, highlighting
a contrast between the speaker and other
interlocutors, and showing a hypotactic relation
with what follows. The clause is interrupted by a
query about the name of the girl, with tone 2, and
she finishes it with tone 1 on the embedded part
of the clause. Veronica enthusiastically joins in
the comment with tone 4 underscoring a contrast
with marked tonicity on the demonstrative
pronoun and establishing the dependence of this
clause on the next one which has a strong key
on tone 1, showing her excitement. Though this
last unit presents movements in the pretonic
element, these are not given nuclear status, as
the approach gives priority to clause structure,
especially in cases where the fast tempo suggests
the organization of the message in one piece of
information. Nicky approves of this comment and
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Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
adds hers with strong interpersonal key on her
very short clauses. All of them have tone concord
with tone 1, neutral for declaratives, making
them sound as one piece of information. The last
two units, though showing a lexicogrammatical
relation of hypotaxis in the wording, are presented
as independent through tone choice.
(ii) Martha then takes the floor to add a
further example of Charles’s indiscreet behaviour.
She uses a high-keyed referring tone on “I”,
expressing contrast, followed by a unit with
dominant referring tone asking for confirmation
about the girl’s name and finally introducing a
piece of information as new with a proclaiming
tone and a mid termination suggesting that she
expects agreement. Veronica agrees with her,
using a falling rising tone to refer to what Martha
said. She then uses a proclaiming tone to bring
more information to the conversation. Her high
termination states her expectation of confirmation
on the part of the other participants. Nicky takes
the turn to confirm, using high key and, in a series
of four units with proclaiming tones, she provides
more information on Charles’s comments about
his affairs.
Comparison: The tone choices in this
exchange are similar to others already discussed.
The two approaches have a different view with
respect to tonality choices. While Halliday and
Greaves consider the possibility of having pitch
movement within the pretonic, Brazil et al. would
understand those movements as tonic syllables.
As the transcription was done following the first
authors, those differences –that we could perceive
in Veronica’s second unit– are not reflected in our
transcription or analysis.
i) Ninth exchange
Charles: // ^ I... I / think per/haps it was a... //
Helena’s mother: // 1. ^ we’ve / both lost a / lot
of */ weight since / then //
Charles: *// 1. Ah *// 1. great *// 1. speeches //
(i) Charles’s next contribution is incomplete
as he feels overwhelmed by the situation and is
interrupted by Helena’s mother –who identifies
herself as one of the women being laughed
at– with a declarative neutral tone 1. After this
statement, an uncomfortable silence of almost
7 seconds follows, and Charles breaks it when
an extralinguistic signal –a bell ringing– calls
everyone’s attention. He uses neutral declarative
force (tone 1) on the minor clauses that end the
interaction.
(ii) With a false start, interpreted as an
incomplete tone unit, Charles tries to defend
himself but he is interrupted by Helena’s mother,
who uses a divergent proclaiming tone to modify
the previous speakers’ view. An uncomfortable
pause follows and finally, Charles is relieved by an
abrupt change in the situation, when extralinguistic
factors interrupt the conversation and he has the
chance to change the embarrassing topic by using
proclaiming tones for the last tone units.
Comparison: This last exchange shows
elements in common between the two approaches
as regards tonality and tone choices, which have
already been discussed.
Conclusion
Any analysis which is only phonological
will necessarily be limited in its explanations,
since meaning is built up from choices speakers
make at different levels. Speakers make meaning
through decisions on the basis of the step-by-
step development of the interaction, making
simultaneous choices as regards lexicogrammar,
prosody, paralinguistic ways of expression,
interpersonal relationships, discoursal and
pragmatic meanings, and so on.
As EFL teacher-trainers, our main concern
is to find ways to guide our students in their
Germani, M., Rivas, L. (2011) Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • Bogotá, Colombia. Pages 100-113
110 110 110 110 110
acquisition of English. Our aim is to raise their
awareness of the meaning-making possibilities
the language offers. Since phonology is the area
in which we work, we are constantly looking for
methods that will help our students to understand
and use phonology as a tool which combines with
other linguistic, paralinguistic and contextual
features in the negotiation of meaning.
In oral interaction, native speakers make
many of these choices unconsciously, and
also unconscious is their interpretation of the
meanings conveyed. This paper reflects our
attempt to integrate phonology with the other
areas and to make their relationship explicit to
help students understand and use them in the
target language. Although Brazil et al. sometimes
refer to lexical and grammatical notions for their
explanations as regards phonological choices,
they do not integrate them into a comprehensive
system. On the other hand, Halliday and Greaves
provide explanations geared towards an integral
view, since their theoretical framework considers
the language system as a whole.
As regards the use of tone, this difference in
approach is seen with respect to the explanations
for the use of the falling and the falling-rising
tones. Halliday and Greaves relate the use of
falls with the independent status of grammatical
clauses, whereas the fall-rise is associated with
the meanings expressed with dependent clauses.
Brazil et al. consider that utterances with falling
intonation have higher informative value than
those with falling-rising intonation, without any
link to grammatical features.
With respect to the division into tone units,
Halliday and Greaves favour clause structure as
the neutral choice, considering the phonology
as a realization of lexico-grammatical choices.
Brazil et al. base this division on the occurrence
of marked pitch movements or pause, reflecting
their view that intonation and grammar are two
independent systems.
Finally, the analysis of interpersonal
meanings vary in both approaches. Halliday and
Greaves take into account the existence of neutral
intonation choices for every lexico-grammatical
category and assign additional meanings to
variations from these unmarked versions. Brazil et
al. associate interpersonal meanings with choices
in tone, key and termination, i.e. pitch movement
and pitch level, without making reference to
lexico-grammatical patterns. Though we have
found some correspondences in the explanations
offered, we still lack sufficient data to arrive at a
parallel view of both approaches.
This paper presents a preliminary analysis
using both systems on a limited number of
exchanges in one conversation. It is our intention
to continue our exploration and to widen the
amount of language samples to reach more
representative conclusions.
References
Boersma, P. & Weenink, D. (1992-2011). Praat. Doing
phonetics by computer (Version 5.2.20) [Software].
Available from http://www.fon.hum.uva.nl/praat/
Brazil, D., Coulthard, M. & Johns, C. (1980). Discourse
intonation and language teaching. London, England:
Longman.
Brazil, D. (1995). A grammar of speech. Oxford, England:
Oxford University Press.
Brazil, D. (1997). The Communicative value of intona-
tion in English. Cambridge, England: Cambridge
University Press.
Halliday, M.A.K. & Greaves, W.S. (2008). Intonation in
the grammar of English. London, England: Equinox.
Halliday, M.A.K. & Mathiessen, C. (2004). An introduction
to functional grammar. London, England: Arnold.
Kenworthy, D., Bevan, T., Fellner, E. & Curtis, R. (Produ-
cers), & Newell, M. (Director). (1994) Four weddings
and a funeral [Motion picture]. United Kingdom:
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • July -December 2011. Vol. 13 • Number 2 • Bogotá, Colombia. p. 100-113
111
Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
Appendix I: Script
Alistair: // 1- ^ there are / four / hundred / different kinds of */ tea //
// 1. ^ and / that’s not in/cluding all these / so-called */ fruit teas //
// 1. ^ I-I took Ve/ronica out to / India at */ Christmas //
// 1. ^ to / look at the plan*/tations //
Charles: *// 1. Excellent //
Alistair: // 1+ 3 ^ I be/lieve you and */ her / went there */ once //
Charles: // 1. that’s */ right //
Veronica: // 1. Charles was */ vile //
// 1+ ^ he in/sisted on / cracking */ jokes //
// 1+ all the / time I was */ ill //
Charles: // 4. ^ just / trying to / cheer you */ up Ve //
Nicki: // 5. ^ oh you’re */ that ve/ronica //
Veronica: // 1. which Ve*/ronica // 2. Charlie //
Charles: // 2. ^ re/member Bom*/bay //
Nicki: // 4. ^ when / Charles and */ I were going / out //
// 4. ^ he / told me he’d / had this / interesting / journey round */ India with //
// 1+ vomiting ve*/ronica I... // 1- ^ I / think that was */ it //
Charles: // -1. ^ I... I / don’t remember / ever */ mentioning it //
// 4. maybe */ maybe I / did //
Martha: // 1. ^ oh */ come on / Charles //
//-1+ ^ I / don’t think I’ve / ever been */ out with / anyone less dis/creet //
Charles: // 2. ^ well I / think that’s / probably a / bit of an exagge*/ration is it / not //
Nicki: // 4. ^ it is */ not //
Martha: *// 4. I remember you going / on about this / girl //
*// 2. Helena was it // 1. ^ whose / mother made a */pass at you //
Veronica: // 4. ^ I re/member */ this //
// - 1+ ^ you / couldn’t / work it / out whether it would be / impo/lite not to ac/cept her ad*/vances //
Nicki: // 1+ ^ that’s */ right // 1+ ^ Mrs */ Piggy // 1. Helena was / Miss */ Piggy //
// 1+ ^ so her / mother was */ Mrs Piggy //
Charles: // ^ I... I / think per/haps it was a...
Helena’s mother: // -1. ^ we’ve / both lost a / lot of */ weight since / then //
Charles: *// 1. Ah *// 1. great *// 1. speeches //
Germani, M., Rivas, L. (2011) Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • Bogotá, Colombia. Pages 100-113
112 112 112 112 112
Appendix II: Praat images
Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology: A Comparison
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
ISSN 0123-4641 • July -December 2011. Vol. 13 • Number 2 • Bogotá, Colombia. p. 100-113
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Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Phonology
THE AUTHORS
MIRIAM PATRICIA GERMANI is Professor of English for Secondary and University Education, National University of La Pampa, Argentina,
and is an MA in English and American Literature, National University of Rio Cuarto,Cordoba, Argentina. She is currently lecturing in English
Phonetics and Phonology at National University of La Pampa. Her main interests lie in the area of intonation and its functions in spoken
discourse. She has presented and published papers on this topic in Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
LUCÍA INÉS RIVAS is Professor of English for Secondary and University Education, National University of La Pampa, Argentina, and is
working on her MA dissertation for an MA in Applied Linguistics, National University of Río Cuarto, Córdoba, Argentina. She is lecturing
in English Phonetics and Phonology and Discourse and Pragmatics at the National University of la Pampa. Her main research interests lie
in the area of intonation and spoken discourse, as well as in critical discourse analysis. She has presented and published papers on these
topics in Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
Figure.5
Figure 4
... Selting (1987) presents a descriptive study of the intonation in natural conversations based on discourse intonation, which is purely additive criteria and the results reveal that the role of intonation can only be analyzed by regarding its location with a variety of phenomena of utterance and conversational organization. Germani and Rivas (2011) compare between Brazil's discourse intonation model and Halliday's systematic functional phonology to show the differences and similarities between the two approaches. The study shows that both approaches are based on the intended meaning in the utterance, but they differ in the types of the tones used in both approaches as well as the systematic functional approach is based on the combination of lecixo-grammatical and phonological systems. ...
Article
Full-text available
Intonation plays an important role in understanding the intended meaning of speech since neglecting the study of intonation in the discourse leads to a misunderstanding of some pragmatic meaning. This study attempts to answer these two questions: what is the pragmatic function of the information tone types that are employed in Obama’s speech concerning the termination component? and what are the pragmatic function of the proclaiming and referring tones that are employed in Obama’s speech concerning the dominance and non-dominance factor?. It aims to investigate the types of information tones in Obama’s speech concerning the termination component and dominance/non-dominance factor based on Brazil’s model (1997) of discourse intonation. This study confines itself to the American political interview and it is a qualitative study. The findings show that all the information tone types (proclaiming, referring, and level) are used in Obama’s speech and the high termination is most common level, which is used by Obama in his speech in order to emphasize the information and capture the attention of the interviewer. Generally, it was found that the dominance factor was higher than the non-dominance factor, which reflects that Obama took his status as the controller of the discourse during his speech with the interviewer and most of his speech carries contrastive information, which contradicts the interview’s expectation. This study is beneficial for foreign learners and those who are specialists in phonology and pragmatics since it can clarify the function of intonation through the interaction of participants in context.
... Both models operate with a set of tonal patterns, e.g., in Brazil model these are: falling, rising, rising-falling, falling-rising and level, each having a specific communicative payload. These tone patterns are connected to the categories of "given/new information" [17] or deemed to be "referring/proclaiming" [18], [19], [20], [21] This explicit relationship between intonation and meaning is exploited to search for keywords in speech. ...
... Similarly, a growth in research has taken place in the context of Argentina, where Spanish native speakers learn English as a foreign language (EFL). Despite the scholarly acknowledgement that there are specific aspects of the field of phonetics and phonology that have been neglected (Roncero, 2009), different researchers have focused on the teaching of intonation to Argentine students at university level by presenting proposals for the teaching of a specific aspect (Barbeito, Cardinali & Di Nardo, 2013;Germani & Rivas, 2011;Macagno & Piccirilli, 2009;Perez & Acosta, 2009), or alternative proposals for the assessment of students' production in a phonetics and phonology course for first year students at university level (Cosentino, 2011). ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper explores whether the teaching of English intonation within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) contributes to the development of intonation skills of Argentine Spanish speakers in a training program to become teachers of English as a Foreign Language. To this end, the findings of a study focused on the oral production of students in the first course of phonetics in the program offered at the National University of Rio Cuarto are presented. This paper reports the analysis of recordings of first-year students reading an English text aloud. The results of the recordings obtained in the pre and post-tests reveal that there was improvement in students’ oral production considering the three systems of intonation in SFL after a series of training sessions using a methodology and materials specifically designed for the study. The improvement was particularly noticeable in relation to the tone system. This suggests that the approach seems promising for the development of intonation skills and the development of oral skills in foreign language learners. These results may be of interest for teacher trainers who lecture in higher education institutions as well as for trainers who offer in-service workshops.
Praat. Doing phonetics by computer (Version 5.2.20) [Software]. Available from http
  • P Boersma
  • D Weenink
Boersma, P. & Weenink, D. (1992-2011). Praat. Doing phonetics by computer (Version 5.2.20) [Software]. Available from http://www.fon.hum.uva.nl/praat/
^ we've / both lost a / lot of */ weight since
  • Helena 's Mother
Helena's mother: // -1. ^ we've / both lost a / lot of */ weight since / then // Charles: *// 1. Ah *// 1. great *// 1. speeches //
1+ 3 ^ I be/lieve you and */ her / went there *
  • Alistair
Alistair: // 1+ 3 ^ I be/lieve you and */ her / went there */ once // Charles: // 1. that's */ right //
Producers), & Newell, M. (Director). (1994) Four weddings and a funeral
  • D Kenworthy
  • T Bevan
  • E Fellner
  • R Curtis
Kenworthy, D., Bevan, T., Fellner, E. & Curtis, R. (Producers), & Newell, M. (Director). (1994) Four weddings and a funeral [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.