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Main page » Non-Fiction » Science literature » Linguistics » Intonation Systems: A Survey of Twenty Languages

Intonation Systems: A Survey of Twenty Languages


Because I had not been called upon to write a preface of this sort before, when asked to do so I did a rapid trawl along my bookshelves looking at prefaces. I found that prefaces to multi-authored works were either written by the editors themselves or were included as tributes in volumes which were in the nature of festschrifts to esteemed scholars. It is a tribute to this book that it falls into neither category but still greatly deserves a preface. The editors present here a unique advance in the study of intonation.
Books which have presented systematic comparisons of many languages or of grammars or of phonologies have been available for at least the last decade. But the enormous problems to be faced in achieving anything comparable for intonation have meant that no-one has dared to take on the task. Indeed the editors probably did not initially realise the enormity of this task and hence how long the gestation period would be (I have myself seen two earlier versions which were considerably different).
What we have now is a volume which enables intonationists and others to compare languages systematically on the variables which are the important ones in intonational comparison, e.g. what is the unmarked contour for simple, declarative sentences and what marks the contours for various types of question and for non-finality? This comparison shows up intonational differences but at the same time also brings out the considerable similarities in intonational form and function across languages.
This highlighting of differences and similarities has been achieved despite the plethora of theoretical approaches which the individual authors have brought to the subject. Moreover the editors also introduce their own theory-neutral transcription system for intonation, which is used by many of the contributors to the volume and hence makes comparison easier. The information contained in the articles has been expertly surveyed by the editors in their Introduction, which itself will become obligatory reading for all those interested in the typological and theoretical study of intonation. This book will be a sourcebook for all crosslinguistic researchers. It represents a landmark in the study of intonation.

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Tags: languages, field, intonation, emphasis, comparison