Prosody 1 - Pitch, Tone and Intonation

Pitch refers to the perception of relative frequency (e.g. perceptually high-pitched or low-pitched). Tone refers to significant (i.e. meaningful, constrastive, phonemic) constrasts between words signalled by pitch differences. Tone may be lexical, as in Mandarin Chinese:
Tone number Description
IPA transcription example Meaning
1 high level [m] 妈 ‘mother
2 high rising [mā] ‘hemp’
3 low (falling+)rising [mǎ] or [m] 马 ‘horse’
4 high fall [m] or [m] 骂 ‘scold’
"no tone/neutral tone" (depends on preceding syllable)
[ma] (question marker)

Or grammatical tone, as in many African languages, e.g. Edo:
Tense Monosyllabic verbs Disyllabic verbs
Timeless [ m] ‘I show’ [ hrlɛ̀] ‘I run’
Continuous [ m] ‘I am showing’ [ hrlɛ́] ‘I am running’
Past [ m] ‘I showed’ [ hrlɛ̀] ‘I ran’

However, there may also be non-pitch aspects of tone. Lexical tones are often related to durational, phonatory and vowel quality distinctions as well as frequency distinctions. For example, Mandarin Chinese tone 3 (low rise) is long with creaky voice, Hunanese tone 2 has breathy or chesty voice. Tibetan tone 1 words have voiceless initial consonants whereas tone 2 words have voiced beginnings. Long vowels in tone 4 or 5 open syllables in Thai are checked by a final glottal stop.

Intonation refers to the rise and fall of voice pitch over entire phrases and sentences, even in non-tone languages, such as English:


For a video of how the larynx moves up and down with pitch, see also