14 December 2016: Francis Nolan (Cambridge), “Intonation analysis: the ‘British’ school and the emergence of a phonology of intonation”


Intonation is the ‘melody of speech’, which can highlight what is important in an utterance, sometimes distinguish a question from a statement, and convey a range of other information to do with the speaker’s attitude. By its nature and by the diversity of its functions, intonation has proven more difficult to analyse than the sounds that make up words. Despite this, as early as the 17th century scholars were commenting on the melody of speech, and, somewhat later, Joshua Steele achieved impressive insights judging his own intonation by ear against notes from his bass viol (rather like a ’cello). I will present some examples from his 1775 ‘An essay towards establishing the melody and measure of speech’. It was mainly, however, in the latter part of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century that some of the ideas emerged that we still use today in our analysis of intonation. An important stimulus to this development of intonation analysis was the desire to teach languages more effectively, particularly English. As a result, some of the most influential work was done in the UK, and so the models of intonation dominant at that time are thought of as belonging to a ‘British School’ of intonation analysis. Today, most research into intonation uses a framework sometimes called ‘autosegmental-metrical’. I will set out how these two frameworks differ, what they have in common, and what tasks each is best suited to.



Francis Nolan is Professor of Phonetics in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (DTAL) at the University of Cambridge where he has spent most of his career (mostly in its incarnation as the Department of Linguistics, before its merger in 2011 with the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics). He was President of the British Association of Academic Phoneticians (BAAP) from 2006 to 2014, is on the Council of the International Phonetic Association and was its Vice President (from 1999 to 2003) and previously its Secretary (from 1993 to 1995). He is a Founder Member of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics. His research interests centre on phonetic theory, considering its scope to include all the things we can tell when a person speaks. In this vein, his early research looked at how, and to what extent, the identity of a speaker is encoded in speech (as in his book The Phonetic Bases of Speaker Recognition (Cambridge: CUP, 1983; reissued 2009)). As a consequence he got involved in the application of phonetics in forensics, and this remains a central interest, besides intonation and other aspects of prosody (including dialect differences in intonation), and connected speech processes, the phonetic variation which occurs in fluent, natural speech.