Recently I was thinking about a language I'm currently learning and its similarities with my own native language. While I assume grammar to change considerably depending on language it came to mind that intonation does not seem to change that much (or perhaps I'm just not as "trained" to perceive the differences).

Tried asking Google the question and it did return some interesting papers such as Intonation and Interpretation: Phonetics and Phonology (Gussenhoven, ...), and A Survey of Intonation Systems (Hirst and Cristo, ...). Both mention that there are, in fact, considerable differences in intonation for different languages, but Hirst & Cristo seem to point out the lack of proper research into the why's and how's, as well as an adequate model to categorize Intonation.

Are you aware of any effort being made into understanding the origin (biological, cultural, ?) for these differences? Is there something akin to etymology for Intonation? Do these questions even make sense or am I overthinking this?

  • 2
    The question makes sense, but it is largely unanswerable at present, because we don't have sufficient information on what intonational systems exist, and how they change historically. For example, we know that "uptalk" intonation is spreading in the US, but we don't know how that came about. Studies in intonation favor a few big national languages, so you can't tell whether common patterns reflect something fundamental and biological, or simply accidental.
    – user6726
    Apr 11, 2018 at 19:28
  • Thank you for the reply @user6726 . Yes, indeed one of the papers I've mentioned in the question phrase it somewhat differently but reaches a similar conclusion. I guess it was a bit of a shoot in the dark.
    – armatita
    Apr 12, 2018 at 7:51


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