High Starting Pitch
Purpose of a high starting pitch
A speaker can use a high starting pitch to note two things:
- The speaker has a different opinion or attitude than the previous speaker
- The speaker intends to shift to a new topic
The greater the height of the pitch, the more dramatically the speaker intends to shift the topic or disagrees with the previous speaker.
Example of statement high starting pitch
The following dialog illustrates use of high starting pitches to show differences of opinion between speakers.
By saying that he would like a new mayor, the first speaker is expressing dislike for the current mayor. The second speaker uses a high starting pitch to emphasize her differing opinion, and emphatically stresses that much has been done for the environment. The first speaker then uses another high starting pitch to show disagreement with the opinion that the mayor has helped the environment. The deeply falling pitch boundary on the word environment shows finality to the first speaker's opinion.
Example of question high starting pitch
When a question is not a continuation of a previous conversation, the starting pitch is often high.
This question, with a high starting pitch, is likely to be asked when the topic of discussion immediately prior to it was anything other than household chores. (The high pitch boundary of the first sentence signals that the speaker truly does not know the answer to the question, and is not suggesting to someone that it get done right now. See Wh-question Pitch Boundaries lesson for more information.)
Spoken paragraphs with high starting pitches
High starting pitches signal the equivalent of the beginning of a new spoken paragraph. This is especially common if there is only a single speaker, such as during a lecture or presentation.
In this single-speaker example, the speaker resets the topic with a high starting pitch after every few sentences to note that the topic is shifting. First, the topic is that Owen is a doctor, then that Owen helped a boxer (One of his patients...), and then that Owen has helped actors and actresses (He's also helped...). Remember, starting pitches stay at a high pitch until the first stressed word of the intonation unit, then reset to a normal pitch.
It is also worth noting that the pitch boundaries fall more deeply at the final pitch boundary of a spoken paragraph than sentences earlier in the paragraph.
To sum up:
A high starting pitch can be used to tell the listener that the speaker has a different opinion or attitude than the previous speaker or that the speaker intends to shift to a new topic.
Review related lessons:
Introduction to Starting Pitches
Low Starting Pitches
Mid Starting Pitches