57: Comparing extra-high and rising pitch words

Learn the difference between contrasting and defensively correcting your listener.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 57th episode.

I hope you're enjoying the pitch word podcasts, because today I'm going to do another one; I'm going to compare extra-high pitch words with rising pitch words. Remember, a Pitch word is an individual word that a speaker chooses to set apart by raising or lowering the pitch of its stressed syllable. Pitch words convey which word of the sentence is most the important, and how to interpret the importance of that particular word.

So far we've talked about high pitch word and extra-high pitch words. A high pitch word conveys information new to the dialog and guides the direction of the conversation. The stressed syllable of that word is said at a higher pitch, louder, and for more time than surrounding syllables and words. Remember, a high pitch word is given more emphasis than a stressed word. I most recently talked about stressed words in episode 53, when I talked about phrasal verbs.

Let's get back to today's topic of comparing extra-high pitch words to rising pitch words. I told you last week that an extra-high pitch word is used


  • to magnify or dramatize a situation
  • to correct another speaker's assumption
  • to verbally defend themselves

And extra-high pitch word's pitch is even higher than a high pitch word's pitch.


Now, let's add another kind of pitch word, the rising pitch words. Rising pitch words are used


  • to contrast something previously mentioned
  • to contradict something previously mentioned


Rising pitch words are called rising pitch words because the pitch rises during the stressed syllable of that word. It is important to distinguish between an extra-high pitch word and a rising pitch word because of the way we use each kind of word. Rising pitch words contrast something previously said, which is a kind of correction, but not as defensive as an extra-high pitch. Remember how I said the extra-high pitch words can convey anger? Well, rising pitch words are less likely to do that, and can be safer to use if the purpose is to change the listener's mind or persuade them, since you will be less likely to cause them to feel defensive in return. It is a subtle, but important difference.

Let's go back to last week's example of an extra-high pitch word conversation between a parent and a child. The mother told the child to clean her room, and the child responded,


I CLEANED my room already.


That defensive tone might create a general defensive tone of the whole conversation. However, if a rising tone were used, which would sound like,


I CLEANED my room already.


The contrasting nature of the rising tone is alerting the parent that the chore is done already, and is less likely to anger the parent. The child contrasted the parent's assumption, but not in a defensive manner. The whole conversation can continue in a less defensive way, and will probably be more productive.

Extra-high pitch words are not always used in defense; sometimes they are simply used to be more dramatic.

Let's listen to some examples of beginnings of sentences, and how we would expect a different ending of the sentence based on the choice of pitch words in the first half. I'll say each of these a couple of times so you get a chance to hear the difference.

First, here is an extra-high pitch being used on the word hot to add drama.


It was hot in Florida


Here is a rising pitch on the same word, being used to show contrast.


It was hot in Florida


I'll say both of those again. They are similar, but not exactly the same.


It was hot in Florida
It was hot in Florida


Now I'll add the ending of the sentence.


It was hot in Florida
so hot we didn't even want to go outside.



It was hot in Florida
I expected it to be cooler, since it was January.


Don't worry, I'll explain both.

The first sentence


It was hot in Florida
so hot we didn't even want to go outside.


added more details about how hot it was, making it even more dramatic. The end of the sentence with the rising pitch word


It was hot in Florida
I expected it to be cooler, since it was January.


explained the use of the contrasting pitch on the word hot. Since Florida is a southern state, it is often quite hot, but the speaker through that maybe since it was a winter month it would have been cooler. She used a rising pitch on the word hot to contrast the temperature she was expecting.

A native English speaker could guess what kind of information would be added to each of these sentences based only on the type of pitch word used on the word hot.

I don't expect these podcasts to be able to fully teach these concepts. They are subtle, and they are complex. That is why Pronuncian.com has more examples of the difference between an extra-high pitch and a rising pitch, and if you are a subscriber, there is also a quiz to see if you comprehend the meaning correctly based on the use of pitch words.

That quiz is also included with the audio for my new book, Rhythm and Intonation of American English. The new pre-order price is $32 for the ebook and $42+shipping for the physical book. The book comes out May 15, but if you order before then, you get this reduced price. You can purchase the book from most countries of the world. If you buy the ebook, you simply get an automatic email with a link to the site to download the book from. The book will come as a PDF file, and the audio will come as an MP3.

Some of you may be wondering where the video podcasts went. Don't wory, they'll be back after the book comes out. I hope you can understand the push I've got right now for a final editing to make the content of the book as great as possible. Since video podcasts take an extra long amount of time to produce, they are temporarily on hold. You can expect the next one in May sometime.

Remember, all of your Pronuncian subscriptions and purchases allow us to continue to create these podcasts as well as offer all the free online lessons and practice. We really do rely on you, our listeners and users, to keep Pronuncian running. I don't just say that. It is true. We need your help. If you don't want to make a purchase, we appreciate even a $5 donation more than you can imagine.

As always, if you have any questions about this, or any other English pronunciation topic, you can post them on the forums at www.pronuncian.com/forums, or you can email me at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com. Don't forget to check out the website for transcripts for this show as well as more information about English pitch words and the ways we use them in the United States.

I hope you've enjoyed this show. I know it does get complicated, but don't give up. You can learn to distinguish the difference between all these pitch words! That's all for today. Thanks for listening everyone.

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