Extra-High Pitch words
Purpose of extra-high pitch words
In American English intonation, the purpose of an extra-high pitch word can tell the listener that the speaker is attempting to convey a few different things:
- to magnify or dramatize a situation
- to correct a speaker's assumption
- to verbally defend themself
In all cases, an extra-high pitch word is the most emphatic pitch word available in English. Extra-high pitch words make a very strong statement and tend to reveal emotion. When used to correct or defend, they should be used carefully so an argument isn't started.
How to create extra-high pitch words
Extra-high pitch words are the most noticeable pitch words. The pitch of the stressed syllable of extra-high pitch words is even higher, louder, and longer than the stressed syllable of high pitch words. The added force of an extra-high pitch word also tells the listener that any emotion behind that word is stronger.
Examples of extra-high pitch words
The extra-high pitch words of the following dialog are bolded, and their change in pitch is shown. A line-by-line analysis follows.
To magnify or dramatize
By making Sarah a high pitch word, the speaker answers the question, then adds another sentence with the word best as an extra-high pitch word to emphatically show that the speaker feels strongly that nobody makes better cakes than she does.
Another example of dramatization:
The speaker first answers the question, but then draws attention to the flight back home, signaling that the flight was a more dramatic aspect of the trip.
To correct a speaker's assumptions:
It can be assumed that the two speakers already discussed the fact that the second couldn't come to tomorrow's event due to a meeting. The word can is stressed to make certain that the change in plans (now the second speaker is available to attend the meeting) is understood.
To verbally defend oneself:
The second speaker's response puts the emphasis on the word did instead of the content word homework. His purpose is to get the first speaker to stop bothering him about getting his homework done. The emphatic, extra-high pitch is meant to tell the first speaker that the topic of homework is now finished.
Function words as extra-high pitch words
In most situations, content words become the pitch words of a sentence. Extra-high pitch words don't follow that guideline as closely, and often fall on a word generally regarded as a function word.
The following is an example of an extra-high pitch on the word "is" in line 6. The second speaker was initially trying to more gently guide the listener to agree with him by using high pitch words. However, after two rounds of dialog, the second speaker becomes more forceful and emphatic, and switches to an extra-high pitch. This is meant to signal to the first speaker that she is quite certain that Jack will come, and intends to stop talking about it. An analysis follows the conversation.
Line 1: Jack's late is said as a general comment. Jack is the word that the speaker is signaling to be the most important in the sentence, and so that word is given a high stress.
Line 2: The word He'll is a high pitch word, since the speaker wishes to keep the topic on Jack, and not change it to anybody else that might be expected to arrive. Don't is also given a high stress, as the speaker wants it to be a stronger word than worry.
Line 3: The speaker highlights probably to repeat his uncertainty of seeing Jack.
Line 4: The speaker moves from highlighting Jack, who is now obviously the center of the conversation, to coming, the action word of the sentence.
Line 5: The speaker continues voicing the opinion that Jack is not going to come.
Line 6: The speaker is emphatic that Jack will indeed come. She gives the emphatic pitch to the word is to attempt to get the other speaker to stop displaying such low confidence in Jack. The speaker wishes to express her faith in Jack, and end this topic of discussion.
Extra-high pitch on an unstressed syllable
Emphatic pitch words can also have their pitch change on a normally unstressed syllable. One example of this is when a prefix enhances the intended meaning of the word.
Review related lessons:
Introduction to American English pitch words
American English high pitch words