It seems that in most languages, rising intonation/prosody (towards the end of the sentence) is typically associated with questions. Thus:

  1. How prevalent is this practice, and are there major counterexamples?
  2. Is there any deeper explanation (e.g. psychological) why rising intonation tends to be associated with questions?

Thank you! I have been unable to find any direct references online.

  • Does Swahili count as a counterexample? Questions tend to be marked by a higher pitch on the penultimate syllable, giving them a falling tone at the end.
    – Draconis
    Jul 5 at 22:01
  • @Draconis That certainly counts as a counterexample. I'm sure there are counterexamples... I'm just trying to get a sense whether the association between rising intonation and questions tends to be widespread. Further, if you have any thoughts on the second question I would appreciate that too!
    – J Li
    Jul 5 at 22:02
  • 1
    English wh-questions also tend to have a falling tone at the end, with the higher peak coming a bit earlier; I think this is fairly common, typologically, but there’s still a rising intonation towards the end, just not at the very end. In Chinese (and presumably also other tonal languages, especially if questions are lexically marked), a rising intonation is common, but no rise is also normal, the rise often signalling emphasis (e.g., “你要这个吗?” with no rise is neutral ‘do you want this one?’, with rise emphasised ‘this the one you want?’). Jul 5 at 22:44
  • 2
    From Intonation Systems - A Survey of 20 Languages: Bolinger (1978b) reported that about 70% of a sample of nearly 250 languages were said to use a rising terminal to signal questions and that the remaining 30% used a higher overall pitch for questions than for non-questions. In this volume a high final pitch for non-emphatic yes/no questions is said to be a common pattern for all [20 languages surveyed] except Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian, Western Arabic and Brazilian Portuguese.
    – rchivers
    Jul 6 at 2:49
  • 2
    But 'there are both questions without rises and rises without questions'.
    – rchivers
    Jul 6 at 2:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.