199: Would you like some coffee or tea?

Practice intonation patterns of choice questions.

Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 199th episode.

Most of you know that intonation, or the up and down, or rise and fall of pitch can signal that a speaker has just asked a question. But question intonation patterns are not as straightforward as you might think. First, there are all those different kinds of questions, such as:

  • Yes/no questions
  • Wh- questions
  • Choice questions
  • Declarative questions
  • Tag questions (and more)

Today I'm going to talk about choice questions. This is from a lesson in our Rhythm and Intonation book, which covers the intonation patterns of all of the question types I just listed. Choice questions are questions that include a list of options. It can be as few as two options, such as:

Could I get you a cup of coffee (up) or tea (down)?

Or many options:

Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all up), or maybe some hot chocolate (down)?

For now, let's keep it simple and look at how we use intonation in choice questions when only two options are listed; this was the "Could I get you a cup of coffee or tea," question. I'm going to repeat that question using two different intonation patterns. See if you can hear the difference between them. Listen specifically to the words "coffee" and "tea."

Could I get you a cup of coffee (up) or tea (down)?
Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?

In the first example, I raised my pitch on the word "coffee" and dropped it on "tea." I'll say it again:

Could I get you a cup of coffee (up) or tea (down)?

In the second example, I didn't change the pitch on the word coffee, and then I used a rising pitch on the word "tea." Here it is to listen to again:

Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?

Why would I do that? More specifically, what am I telling you, my listener, when I do that?

The difference is that in the first example, I'm offering only the choices of coffee or tea. I note that by raising my pitch on the first option (coffee), and letting it fall after the final option (tea). That's called a closed-choice question. You choices are only A) coffee, or, B) tea.

In the second example, "Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?" I'm offering a drink, and coffee and tea are examples of what you could have. They're examples, but not the entire set of options. That's an open-choice question because I'm not limiting your choices to coffee or tea. I tell you that by not changing my pitch on the first option (the coffee), and then by rising it after the final option (the tea). Again, it was: "Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?"

Now let's look at the longer example sentence. I'll say it two ways as well:

Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all up), or maybe some hot chocolate (down)?
Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all neutral), or maybe some hot chocolate (up)?

Which of those was the open-choice question? Or to think of it another way, which was giving examples of things to drink, but not limiting the choices to just only examples? I'll say them both again:

Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all up), or maybe some hot chocolate (down)?
Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all neutral), or maybe some hot chocolate (up)?

I hope you said that the second example was the open-choice question. That rising pitch at the end helps give it away. The first example, the example where my pitch fell on "hot chocolate" was more like a server at a restaurant telling you what's available. The second example is more like you're at someone's house and they're giving suggestions, and your host might have something else to offer as well, but they might not be able to think of what it is. If you suggest it, though, maybe they do have it. Maybe what you really want is a glass of wine.

Like I said at the beginning, this topic is included in our Rhythm and Intonation book, which you can order on Pronuncian.com as a physical book, which we'll ship to you, or as a PDF ebook, which you can download immediately. Both options come with MP3 audio. For the physical book, we'll send you an MP3 CD, and for the ebook the audio downloads right alongside the book. Our best--and most popular option--is to purchase the bundle of the Rhythm and Intonation and Pronunciation Pages ebooks together. Then you get all the content on rhythm, plus all the sounds lessons and exercises as well as the sound drills. The sound drills are those long lists of words for you to listen to and repeat for specific sound practice. So if you're having lots of trouble with the short i sound, voiced th, and unvoiced th sounds, you'd get all that practice included.

That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.