Intonation is a crucial part of everyday speech, but what exactly is it?
You’ve likely heard of “pitch”, “tone”, and similar commonly terms used to describe the variations in spoken language.
Intonation is a similar linguistic tool that allows us to convey meaning in our everyday conversations.
At District Speech, we offer speech therapy in Washington DC for issues related to intonation as well as many other areas of speech.
This article will explore intonation, common concerns affected by intonation, and how a speech therapist can help.
Let’s get started.
What Is Intonation?
Intonation is often confused with pitch.
While both intonation and pitch are examples of linguistic tools that are used to convey meaning in our spoken language, they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
Pitch refers to the highness and lowness in your tone of voice.
In contrast, intonation refers to how your pitch varies during spoken conversations.
Let’s look at some examples of intonation to better understand how exactly it works.
How Does Intonation Work?
As previously mentioned, intonation works by changing your voices pitch to convey meaning.
Intonation allows you to convey multiple different meanings for the same word.
Consider the word “really”.
By changing your intonation, you can manipulate the word “really” to mean a variety of things, such as
“I’m telling the truth!” or “Wow, that’s amazing!”.
Or the phrase “you look really nice today”.
Depending on your intonation, it can seem like a genuine compliment, or a dose of underhanded sarcasm.
Additionally, intonation helps to distinguish between questions and statements.
For instance, your voice will raise in pitch at the end of sentence to indicate a question or drop to indicate a statement.
Finally, intonation is useful in conveying emotion.
Our intonation typically goes up to indicate excitement and goes down to indicate sadness or confusion.
Speech Therapy Concerns Affected By Intonation
Speech therapists work with a variety of concerns surrounding prosody and intonation.
Prosody refers to the variations in pitch, tempo, rhythm, and intonation used during speech to convey meaning.
Let’s take a closer look at some concerns surrounding prosody and intonation commonly seen by speech therapists.
1. Accent Modification
One of the most important aspects of learning to speak English as a non native speaker is intonation.
Native English speakers tend to use intonation to stress words we want to stand out in sentences.
Consider the following examples:
- “What time is the meeting today?”
- “The meeting will begin at noon.”
- “What is the dress code for the meeting?”
- “The dress code is business casual.”
By imagining each italicized word as a change in intonation, you can see how intonation is used to establish the subject of each sentence.
Individuals with thick accents often struggle with this component of English.
A speech therapist for accent modification can help you practice intonation to better learn how to communicate effectively in English.
Aphasia is an acquired language disorder typically resulting from an injury to your brain’s left hemisphere, such as a stroke.
Individuals living with aphasia often struggle with spoken language expression and comprehension.
Due to these impairments, intonation is a common area of concern for individuals living with aphasia.
If you’ve been diagnosed with aphasia, speech therapy can help to retrain your brain and improve your communication skills.
3. Speech Therapy For Transgender Women
Being transgender is, of course, not a speech disorder.
This is a result of testosterone driven puberty, which causes one’s vocal folds to become longer, thicker, and heavier.
This is what creates a masculine coded voice.
Unfortunately, going through estrogen driven puberty doesn’t reverse this effect, so trans women and trans feminine people are stuck with the ability to create a masculine voice.
However, there are ways to train a trans woman’s voice to create a feminine coded voice.
One of these methods is intonation.
Masculine coded voices tend to be very monotone, whereas feminine coded voices tend to have a lot more variety in their intonation.
There’s more to trans feminine voice training than just intonation, but training your voice to be able to reproduce more variety in your intonation can go a long way toward creating a passably feminine sounding voice.
4. Speech Therapy For Transgender Men
In the previous section, we mentioned that testosterone driven puberty will cause your vocal folds – the part of your larynx that vibrates to create speech – to become longer, thicker, and heavier.
That’s true regardless of what puberty you’re experiencing.
As a result, voice training for transgender men takes a different approach than for trans women.
Part of the process is learning to break the habit of using a more feminine coded intonation, creating a more monotone – and therefore, more masculine – voice.
5. Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that can affect communication in several ways.
Intonation difficulties are a common area of concern for individuals who’ve been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
If you’ve been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you may experience difficulties with:
- Prosody and intonation
- Hearing spoken language
- Understanding spoken language
- Reproducing spoken language
The reason for these difficulties is that individuals with autism typically understand language in its literal sense and subsequently struggle with concepts such as sarcasm, irony, idioms, metaphors, similes, and double meanings.
Since prosody and intonation don’t come with formal instructions, but instead are learned through social interactions, they are a common area of concern for autistic individuals, especially autistic children.
In these circumstances, a pediatric speech therapist can help to expand and improve your child’s conversational skills.
And if you’re an autistic adult, speech therapy can still help.
Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today
Are you interested in learning more about the parts of speech and how a speech therapist can help?
At District Speech, we have a special interest in helping people improve their verbal communication skills to thrive in both their social and professional lives.
Book an appointment with District Speech today to get started.
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.