">Strong and Weak Forms, and Intonation
A. Strong and Weak Forms
In the phonology of stress-timed languages, the weak form of a word is a form that may be used when the word has no stress, and which is phonemically distinct from the strong form, used when the word is stressed. The strong form serves as the citation form. A weak form is a word as an unstressed syllable, and is therefore distinct from a critic form, which is a word fused with an adjacent word, as in Italian mangiarla, 'to-eat-it'. A word may have multiple weak forms, or none. In some contexts, the strong form may be used even where the word is unstressed.
At least one syllable is fully stressed and has no redaction of the vowel quality. But in connected speech, many changes may take place. Some smaller words such as “and, to, him” may be considerably altered. Many words are like “and” in they seldom maintain their citation forms in conversational speech. These words may be said to have two different forms of pronunciation. There is a strong form, which occurs when the word is stressed, as in sentences such as “I want money and happiness, not money or happiness.” There is also a weak form, which occurs when the word is an unstressed position.
Table of list a number of common English words that have strong and weak forms.
Word Strong Form Weak Form Example of a Weak Form
a ei ə A cup [ə kΛp ]
and ænd ənd, nd, ən, n You and me [ ‘ju ən ‘mi ]
as æz əz As good as [əz ‘gυd əz ]
at æt ət At home [ət ‘hoυm ]
can kæ kən, kn I can go [ aI kη ‘goυ ]
has hæz həz, əz, z, s He’s left [ hiz ‘lεft ]
he hi i, ht, I Will he go? [ wil I ‘goυ ]
must mΛst məst, məs, ms I must sell [aI ms ‘sεl ]
she ƒi ƒI Did she go? [ did ƒI ‘goυ ]
that ðæt ðət He said that it did [ hi ‘sεd ðət it‘did ]
to tu tυ, tə To Mexico [ tə ‘meksikðυ ]
would wυd wəd, əd, d It would do [ it əd ‘du ]
For some words, there are rules that are nearly always applicable. The alternation between “a” [ə] before a consonant and “an” [ən] before a vowel is even recognized in the spelling. Similar alternations occur with the words “the, to,” which are [ðə], tə] before consonants and are often [ði, tu] or [ðI, tυ] before vowels. listen to your own pronunciation of these words in the sentence, “The [ðə] man and the [ði] old woman went to [tə] Britain and to [tu] America.” The two examples of “the” will often be pronounced differently. It should be note, however, that there is a growing tendency for younger America English speakers to use the form [ðə] in all circumstances, even before a vowel. If a glottal stop is inserted before words beginning with a vowel (another growing tendency in America English) and the form [ðə] is even more likely to be used.
In English, most words will have at least one stressed syllable, and hence no separate strong and weak forms. All words which do have distinct strong and weak forms are monosyllables, and are usually function words or discourse particles. For most of these, the weak form is the one usually encountered in speech. As the extreme example, the strong form of the indefinite article, For instance:
Question: "Did you find the cat?"
Answer: "I found a [eɪ] cat." (i.e. maybe not the one you were referring to)
Otherwise (unless one is risking pomposity) the weak form [ə] is used for a.
The main words with weak forms in Received Pronunciation are:
a, am, an, and, are, as, at, be, been, but, can, could, do, does, for, from, had, has, have, he, her, him, his, just, me, must, of, shall, she, should, some, than, that, the, them, there, to, us, was, we, were, who, would, you
Other dialects or accents may have others. Many varieties have a weak form [jɚ] for your, which can, for example in dialogue, be spelled "yer". In some British regional pronunciations, such as Hiberno-English, there is a weak form [mi] for my, often spelled "me". A greater difference between strong and weak forms, and a more widespread use of weak forms, are associated with less formal registers, and may be indicated in writing by eye dialect spellings, such as ’em for them [əm]. The most formal register in this sense is singing, where strong forms may be used almost exclusively, apart (normally) from a.
When one sound is changed into another because of the influence of a neighboring sound. There is said to be a process of assimilation. Anticipatory articulation is by far the most common cause of assimilations in English. But preservative assimilations do occur, for example, in the pronunciation of the phrase “it is” [is iz] as “it’s” [its] as a result of the perseveration of the voicelesness of [t].
In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. (Compare tone.) Intonation and stress are two main elements of linguistic prosody. All languages use pitch semantically, that is, as intonation, for instance for emphasis, to convey surprise or irony, or to pose a question. Tonal languages such as Chinese and Hausa use pitch to distinguish words in addition to intonation.
Rising intonation is the pitch of the voice increases over time; falling intonation is that the pitch decreases with time. A dipping intonation falls and then rises, whereas a peaking intonation rises and then falls. The classic example of intonation is the question-statement distinction. For example, northeastern American English, like very many languages (Hirst & DiCristo, eds. 1998), has a rising intonation for echo or declarative questions (He found it on the street?), and a falling intonation for wh- questions (Where did he find it?) and statements (He found it on the street.). Yes or no questions (Did he find it on the street?) often have a rising end, but not always. The Chickasaw language has the opposite pattern, rising for statements and falling with questions.
Dialects of British and Irish English vary substantially, with rises on many statements in urban Belfast, and falls on most questions in urban Leeds. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, "global" rising and falling intonation are marked with a diagonal arrow rising left-to-right and falling left-to-right, respectively. These may be written as part of a syllable, or separated with a space when they have a broader scope:
The normal intonation contours for questions in English use:
• final rising pitch for a Yes/No question
o Are you coming today?
• final falling pitch for a Wh-question
o When are you coming? Where are you going?
The intonation of a sentence is the pattern of pitch changes that occurs. The part of a sentence over which a particular pattern extends is called a tone group. Within the tone group, each stressed syllable has a minor pitch increase but there is single syllable that stands out because it carries the major pitch change. A syllable of this kind is called the tonic syllable. And will be marked by an asterisk. In sentence (1) the first syllable of “area” is the tonic syllable, and as you can see, has the greatest pitch change. Each of the stress syllables is accompanied by a small increase in pitch, but the major pitch movement starts on the first syllable of the last word.
1. we ‘know a ‘man in our *area
The tonic accent the last stressed syllable in a tone group. It may occur earlier, if some word requires emphasis.
2. we ‘know a *millionaire in our ‘area
The pitch changes that start on the tonic syllable are continued on the following syllables. In the examples given above, the fall in pitch continues (but at slower rate and with a small increase on he stressed syllable) until the end of the sentence. Sometimes there are two or more tone groups within a sentence.
3. I *worry when I’m a ’way , *know ing you’re un’well
In these cases, the beginning of a new tone group may be marked, as in (3) by II. The pitch changes that begin on the tonic syllable continue only until the beginning of the next tone group.
4. A ‘lion is a *mammal
In this case, the topic of the sentence is a lion, and the comment on that topic is that it is a mammal. But if I were discussing mammals, and considering all the animals that fitted into that category, I might say:
5. A *lion is a ‘mammal
Various pitch changes are possible within the tonic accent. In sentences (1) through (5) the intonation may be simply described as falling. Another possibility is that the tonic syllable is the start of an upward glide of pitch. This kind of pitch change, which we will simply refer to as rising, is typical in questions requiring the answer “yes” or “no”, such as :
6. Will you *mail me my ‘money?
As with [+ falling], the syllable that is marked [+ rising] is not necessarily the last stressed syllable in a tone group. It occurs earlier in:
7. Will you ‘mail me my *money?
Now consider what you do in questions that cannot be answered “yes’ or “no”, such as:
8. When will you ‘mail my *money?
There are many possible ways of saying this sentence. But probably the most neutral is with [+ falling] on the final stressed syllable. Questions that begin with wh-question words, such as “where, when, who, why, what,” are usually pronounced with a falling intonation.
A rising intonation often occurs in the middle of sentences, a typical circumstance being at the end of a clause, as in:
9. When you are *winning I will run a *way
A list of items is often given in a similar way:
10. We know ‘Anna ‘Lenny ‘Mary and *Nora
Note that yes-no questions can nearly always be reworded so that they fit into this pattern:
11. Will you ‘mail me my *money, or not?
In study of intonation, it may be useful distinguish between two kinds of rising intonation. I might have slightly rising intonation in:
12. Yes 13. Go on
These are the kinds of utterances one makes when listening to someone telling a story. They mean, “I hear you; please continue.” If I have a larger rise in pitch and say:
14. Yes 15. Go on
It means, “Did you say ’yes’?” or “Did you say ‘Go on’?” however, people are not entirely consistent in the way they use this difference in intonation. Both rising and falling intonations can occur within the same tonic accent.
16. Your *Mom will ‘marry a ‘law yer?
There are also distinct intonation patterns that one can use when addressing or calling someone. If I am answering a question such as “who is that over there?”. I will have a falling intonation over much of my pitch range, as shown in (17). However, if I am trying to attract someone’s attention. I might use a falling intonation, but with only half the range of the full tall, as in (18). Calling to someone in this way can even be done as a chant, with comparatively steady pitches after the first rise, as in (19).
17. Laura 18. Laura 19. Laura
In curves (20) through (24), I have included dotted lines showing part of a pitch scale, so as to make comparisons easier. It is actually in octave 100 Hz to 200 Hz to use a allowed will be referring to in chapter (7). (20) is a simple statement. Answering the question “What is her name” (21) is the question. Equivalent to “Did you say Amelia” (22) is the form that might be used when addressing Amelia. Indicating that it is her turn to speak. (23) is appropriate when questioning Amelia about some awkward point. Lastly, (24) is the form for a strong reaction, reprimanding Amelia.
20. Amelia 21. Amelia 22. Amelia 23.Amelia 24.Amelia