I have not read this book, just googling my question.

Although most naive native listeners feel that stress has something to do with loudness (as indeed it can, but not necessarily so), the main perceptual dimension in which stress is signalled is pitch (Lehiste 1970: 153). Compare the noun insult with the verb insult, both said as a statement. In both words the stressed syllable has a higher pitch. In English, however, it is not high pitch per se that signals stress. It is a greater pitch deviation, either up or down, from the pitch on surrounding unstressed syllables. To see this, compare the noun insult said as a statement, with the same word said as a question: 'insult?' In the latter, the pitch of the stressed syllable is no longer higher than the adjacent unstressed syllable, but lower.

From Forensic Speaker Identification by Phil Rose, page 155.

I think that 'pitch change' here must mean the change in pitch from the phoneme just before the syllable to the phoneme starting it, coupled with the change in pitch from the phoneme ending the syllable to the phoneme just after that. To illustrate, I think e.g. in the phrase

  • Is that an insult?

there is more change from the /n/ of 'an' to /ɪ/ of 'insult' than there is change from, in 'insult', /n/ to /s/, and it's for this that stress appears on the first syllable of 'insult'.

Or am I wrong and what is meant is something else e.g. some total or average pitch of each syllable?

  • 2
    Pitch is a feature of voice, so it has no meaning in relation to voiceless segments like /s/ or /k/ or /h/. It is also generally a suprasegmental feature, meaning that it applies to larger units than single segments/phonemes – syllables, phrases and sentences in English. With syllables inside words, we call the effects of pitch stress; applied to phrases and sentences, we call it intonation. The change in pitch is thus not between individual phonemes as much as it is between syllables. So there’s a change in pitch between /ɪn/ and /sʌlt/, whether that pitch is going up or going down. Jul 22, 2023 at 9:10
  • ok @JanusBahsJacquet can you elaborate on what you mean by "a change in pitch" then? do you mean the average pitch of the syllable? just the vowel?
    – stupid
    Jul 22, 2023 at 9:40
  • it may be worth pointing out that the book i cite does seem to think that unvoiced phonemes have a pitch. they say voicing and pitch are separate and note that rounding the lips when saying /s/ "lowers the pitch"
    – stupid
    Jul 22, 2023 at 9:48
  • 2
    That’s a slightly different sense of the word ‘pitch’. In purely physical terms, as a property of sound, pitch corresponds almost directly to the frequency of sound waves – and any sound has it, including gunshots, smoke detectors, boiling water, etc. The slightly narrower meaning mostly used in language, and relating to intonation, specifically relates to vocal pitch (generated by the vocal cords) and doesn’t apply to voiceless segments. Altering your mouth shape will affect the pitch, and that is part of how we identify [ʃ] from [s], but it’s not relevant to intonation. Jul 22, 2023 at 13:44
  • As it relates to intonation, it is indeed the pitch over the whole syllable that counts. As it relates to stress in English, syllables generally have a relatively constant pitch throughout ([ɪn] and [sʌlt] both have relatively level pitches), so you could say it’s roughly the ‘average’ pitch there; the change is then between those ‘averages’. Intonational units can be anything from a single syllable to a whole sentence, so you can’t apply the same logic there – in “Huh?”, the rise in pitch takes place within the syllable, for example. Jul 22, 2023 at 13:53

2 Answers 2


Intonation is a phonetic add-on to a word at the sentential level, which can serve a variety of pragmatic purposes. Across languages, it usually cashes out as patterns of F0, amplitude, and duration but can involve other long-terms properties such as nasalization and laryngeal state. All languages do it to some extent.

Stress is a phonological property of words in some languages, where it might be highly lexicalized as in English, completely predictable as in Swahili, predictable but abstract as in North Saami, or completely absent as in Tigrinya and Yoruba. Stress is typically realized phonetically – when it exists and is phonetically realized as something distinctive – as a modulation of pitch and duration, but also has a wide variety of phonological functions (e.g., in North Saami it controls various vowel alternations and syllable weight, which causes consonants to alternate).

Intonation has a tendency to be "attracted" to the location of stress in a word because there is considerable overlap in the substance realizing stress and the substance defining an intonational pattern (especially duration and pitch). Intonologists typically speak of the result as "prominence", in the sense that you can easily pick out a certain word because of its distinctive phonetic realization (higher pitch or lower pitch, as the case may be).

By "change", linguists often mean that a certain property of a form differs as a function of context, and not necessarily that it had one property but that property changes to something else. We can describe the difference between the noun ˈinsult and the verb inˈsult as a difference in stress, which is a fact of the English assignment rules. If you want, you can also say that the noun is derived from the verb so that first you create inˈsult by the verb-stress rule, then you turn it into a noun and apply the noun-stress rule – that would be a change in stress.

The author is actually addressing an old misconception about stress, that stress is primarily about loudness, but tone and intonation are about pitch. In fact, amplitude and pitch are closely linked, but amplitude is not an independently controllable phonemic feature; however, it can be controlled over longer spans of speech, and it does figure into intonational analysis.

  • a good answer thanks (can't upvote), even though you don't try to exactly define what stress is in the terms asked
    – stupid
    Jul 22, 2023 at 13:14
  • Intonation is most definitely not a phonetic add-on to a word. In fact, intonation is not "phonetic". Intonation is heard over an entire phrase or sentence.
    – Lambie
    Jul 22, 2023 at 15:43

Examples based on the word insult.

  • That was most definitely an insult. [noun]

  • He was the one who insulted the man.[verb]

The difference in those words is the tonic accent. In the first, the in takes it and in the second the sulted takes it. The tonic accent is the one that receives the most stress.

Intonation is not related to either one specifically. Intonation concerns an entire phrase or sentence and can change the meaning depending on how it is said. It's about the rise and fall of words in a phrase or sentence. Any word that is stressed more than the others can change the meaning of the sentence. Please see below, where the bolded words have stronger pitch.

  • ↗That↘︎ was most definitely an insult. [noun]
  • That ↗was↘︎ most definitely an insult.
  • That was ↗most↘︎ definitely an insult.
  • That was ↗most ↗definitely↘︎ an insult.
  • That was most definitely an ↗insult↘︎.

The ↗ means a rising intonation and ↘︎ means falling intonation.

In linguistics, intonation is the variation in pitch used to indicate the speaker's attitudes and emotions, to highlight or focus an expression, to signal the illocutionary act performed by a sentence, or to regulate the flow of discourse. Wikipedia

The same exercise can be done with the other sentence.

  • ↗He↘︎ was the one who insulted the man.[verb]

and so forth. The point here is that for the difference between the noun or the verb, the stress on the syllables does not change. For insult to be a verb, regardless of the intonation of the other words or over the entire sentence, the tonic accent (the one with the higher pitch as defined in the OP's text) does not change. It is the change in tonic accent that changes the meaning from a verb to a noun.

  • That was an insult! [noun, no particular word is stressed but the tonic accent is on the in insult]
  • That was an insult↘︎? [noun]

Yes, the pitch may be lower in the question but tonic accent does not change. What changes is the rise and fall around the word insult in the question over the entire sentence pattern.

tonic accent noun

Merriam Webster : relative phonetic prominence (as from greater stress or higher pitch) of a spoken syllable or word

The tonic accent (syllable stress) changes between the verb and noun for insult and insult. However, the overall intonation given to them in a sentence can change: the rising and falling pattern associated with them (depending on what meaning is meant) in a sentence but not the way the individual words are stressed in order to maintain verb and noun meanings.

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