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Chapter 1 American Intonation
The American Speech Music
CD 1 Track 4
What to Do with Your Mouth to Sound American
One of the main differences between the way an American talks and the way the rest of the world talks is that we don't really move our lips. (So, when an American says, "Read my lips!" what does he really mean?) We create most of our sounds in the throat, using our tongue very actively. If you hold your fingers over your lips or clench your jaws when you practice speaking American English, you will find yourself much closer to native-sounding speech than if you try to pronounce every ... single ... sound ... very ... carefully. If you can relate American English to music, remember that the indigenous music is jazz. Listen to their speech music, and you will hear that Americans have a melodic, jazzy way of producing sounds. Imagine the sound of a cello when you say, Beddy bada bida beader budder (Betty bought a bit of better butter) and you'll be close to the native way of saying it. Because most Americans came from somewhere else, American English reflects the accent contributions of many lands. The speech music has become much more exaggerated than British English, developing a strong and distinctive intonation. If you use this intonation, not only will you be easier to understand, but you will sound much more confident, dynamic, and persuasive. Intonation, or speech music, is the sound that you hear when a conversation is too far away to be clearly audible but close enough for you to tell the nationality of the speakers. The American intonation dictates liaisons and pronunciation, and it indicates mood and meaning. Without intonation, your speech would be flat, mechanical, and very confusing for your listener. What is the American intonation pattern? How is it different from other languages? Foa egzampuru, eefu you hea ah Jahpahneezu pahsohn speakingu Ingurishu, the sound would be very choppy, mechanical, and unemotional to an American. Za sem vey vis Cheuman pipples, it sounds too stiff. A mahn frohm Paree ohn zee ahzer ahnd, eez intonashon goes up at zee end ov evree sentence, and has such a strong intonation that he sounds romantic and highly emotional, but this may not be appropriate for a lecture or a business meeting in English. 1
American Intonation Do's and Don'ts
Do Not Speak Word by Word
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Connect Words to Form Sound Groups
Use Staircase Intonation
////////// ///////// zän
////////// //////// ///////// the
///////// ///////// /////////
Start a new staircase
when you want to emphasize
that information, generally a noun.
+ Do not speak word by word.
If you speak word by word, as many people who learned "printed" English do, you'll end up sounding mechanical and foreign. You may have noticed the same thing happens in your own language: When someone reads a speech, even a native speaker, it sounds stiff and stilted, quite different from a normal conversational tone. + Connect words to form sound groups.
This is where you're going to start doing something completely different than what you have done in your previous English studies. This part is the most difficult for many people because it goes against everything they've been taught. Instead of thinking of each word as a unit, think of sound units. These sound units may or may not correspond to a word written on a page. Native speakers don't say Bob is on the phone, but say [bäbizän the foun]. Sound units make a sentence flow smoothly, like peanut butter— never really ending and never really starting, just flowing along. Even chunky peanut butter is acceptable. So long as you don't try to put plain peanuts directly onto your bread, you'll be OK. 2
+ Use staircase intonation.
Let those sound groups floating on the wavy river in the...
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