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Unit 1. The Problem of Phonetic Functional Styles Classification

(General Considerations)



Human communication isn’t possible without intonation, because it’s instrumental in conveying the meaning. No sentence can exist without a particular intonation.

Intonation is a language universal. It is a powerful means of communication. It has a great potential for expressing ideas and emotions and it contributes to mutual understanding between people.

Intonation is the music of the language. In English, we use tone to signal emotion, questioning, and parts of the sentence among many other things. It’s important to recognize the meaning behind the tones used in everyday speech, and to be able to use them so that there are no misunderstandings between the speaker and the listener. It is generally true that mistakes in pronunciation of sounds can be overlooked, but mistakes in intonation make a lasting impression.

Intonation is «the melody of speech». It is said to indicate the attitudes and emotions of the speaker, so that one and the same sentence can be pronounced in a happy way, a sad way, an angry way, and so on. It is clear that when we are expressing emotions, we also use different voice qualities, different speaking rates, facial expressions, gestures. We must indicate what type of information is presenting and how it is structured, and at the same time we must keep our listeners’ attention and their participation in the exchange of information.

Intonation plays a central role in stylistic differentiation of oral texts. Stylistically explicable deviations from intonational norms reveal conventional patterns differing from language to language. Adult speakers are both transmitters and receivers of the same range of phonostylistic effects carried by intonation. The intonation system of a language provides a consistently recognizable invariant basis of these effects from person to person. The uses of intonation in this function show that the information so conveyed is, in many cases, impossible to separate from lexical and grammatical meanings expressed by words and constructions in a language (verbal context) and from co-occurring situational information (non-verbal context). The meaning of intonation can not be judged in isolation.

Thus the primary concern of linguistics is the study of language in use. It’s particularly relevant for the study of intonational functional styles, because we’re interested in how the language units are used in various social situations. An intonational style can be defined as a system of interrelated intonational means which is used in a certain social sphere and serves a definite aim in communication.

The problem of intonational styles classification can hardly be regarded as settled as yet. Several different styles of pronunciation may be distinguished, although no generally accepted classification of styles has been worked out and the peculiarities of different styles have not yet been sufficiently investigated. Most scholars do not argue about the number of styles being five, but disagree about their terminology. Besides, it should be noted that the phonetic style-forming means are the degree of assimilation, reduction and elision, all of which depend on the degree of carefulness of pronunciation. Each phonetic style is characterized by a specific combination of certain segmental and prosodic features.

The British phonetician D. Jones distinguishes such styles of pronunciation as the rapid familiar style, the slower colloquial style, the natural style used in addressing a fair-sized audience, the acquired style of the stage, and the acquired style used in singing.

T. Kenyon described four principal styles of good spoken English: familiar colloquial, formal colloquial, public-speaking style and public-reading style.

L.V. Shcherba wrote of the need to distinguish a great variety of styles of speech, in accordance with the great variety of different social occasions and situations, but for the sake of simplicity he suggested that only two styles of pronunciation should be distinguished: (1) colloquial style characteristic of people’s quiet talk, and (2) full style, which we use when we want to make our speech especially distinct and, for this purpose, clearly articulate all the syllables of each word.

The other way of classifying phonetic styles is suggested by J.A. Dubovsky who discriminates the following styles: informal ordinary, formal neutral, formal official, informal familiar, declamatory. This division is based on different degrees of formality or rather familiarity between the speaker and the listener.

M. A. Sokolova and other’s approach is slightly different. And it is this very classification of phonostyles that is considered useful for teaching and learning purposes. According to M.A. Sokolova there are five intonational styles singled out mainly according to the purpose of communication. They are as follows:

Ø Informational (Formal) style;

Ø Academic (Scientific) style;

Ø Publicistic style;

Ø Declamatory (Artistic) style;

Ø Conversational (Familiar) style.


As we may see the above-mentioned phonetic styles on the whole correlate with functional styles of the language. They are differentiated on the basis of spheres of discourse. For instance, according to professor I.R. Galperinthere are suchverbal functional styles of the written language as:

(1) belles-lettres style, embracing genres of creative writing;

(2) publicistic style, covering such genres as essays, feature article, public speeches;

(3) newspaper style, observed in the majority of materials printed in newspapers;

(4) scientific prose style, found in articles, brochures, monographs and other scientific, academic publications;

(5) the style of official documents.

These styles are the product of the development of the written variety of language. In the case of oral representation of written texts each verbal style is given a phonetic identity. Thus the situational context and the speaker’s purpose determine the choice of an intonational style. The primary situational determinant is the kind of relationship existing between the participants in a communicative transaction.

Intonational styles distinction is based on the assumption that there are types of information present in communication: intellectual information, emotional and attitudinal (modal) information, volitional and desiderative information. Consequently, there are three types of intonation patterns used in oral communication: a) intonation patterns used for intellectual purposes, b) intonation patterns used for emotional and attitudinal purposes and c) intonation patterns used for volitional and desiderative purposes. All intonational styles include intellectual intonation patterns, because the aim of any kind of intercourse is to communicate or express some intellectual information. The frequency of occurrence and the overall intonational distribution of emotional and volitional patterns shape the distinctive features of each style.

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