When we speak, we tend to speak in ‘chunks’ – small groups of words. Each chunk has its own change in intonation and there is usually a brief pause before the next chunk. We call these chunks ‘tone units’ and these units appears to be one of the basic building blocks of speech. A tone unit is the minimum unit of speech which can carry intonation. It is typically a few words in length but can be a single word or syllable. Other terms for this unit are ‘intonational unit’ or ‘foot group’.
Difference Between Pitch and Tone
The difference between pitch and tone is very small and not easy to understand. Don’t worry if you still don’t understand after reading this – it will take some time before you do. Pitch is proportional to the fundamental frequency (F0) of a sound. However, pitch refers to how the human mind perceives (hears) the sound whereas frequency is an objective measurement that we can make with an instrument. The human auditory system is actually very sensitive to changes in pitch and pitch is one of the prime factors in creating perceived stress.
Pitch Dynamism Quotient is a measure of the variation a speaker has in the pitch of their voice over a length of speech. It can be considered as a measure of the ‘liveliness’ (Hincks, 2004) a speaker puts into their voice when making an oral presentation.
Pitch variation can be measured using the standard deviation, but since males and females normally have different pitch registers, a normalised value of the deviation is necessary in order to make valid comparisons.
When making an oral presentation, a skilled presenter will use the full pitch range in order to structure and segment their monologue. Pitch can be useful in a presentation to highlight, among other things, the division of the talk into spoken paragraphs (paratones). Less skilled presenters often use a narrower pitch range which gives them less headroom in which to show these divisions.
In my previous post on intonation, I talked about the phonological paragraph and how intonation can be used to segment these in a presentation. This is an important device that an expert presenter will use to give their talk structure and coherence
In this post, I’d like to discuss in more detail about how intonation develops over a group of words, usually termed the tone unit. A tone unit is the minimal unit which can carry intonation. It can be one syllable long, but usually extends over a few syllables. (A tone unit can also be called an ‘intonation unit’ or ‘foot group’.)
Intonation can be defined as the rise and fall of the pitch of the voice over a group of words, usually called a ‘tone unit’. A tone unit is a group of words (but can be a single word) under one single intonation contour. Tone units are combined to form paratones or ‘phonological paragraphs’. The phonological paragraph is similar to the paragraph that we observe in written language. It is assumed that when a (expert) speaker delivers a monologue in the form of an oral presentation, they break their talk up into paragraphs and these paragraphs are demarcated chiefly by pausing, discourse markers and intonation.