Spanish Intonation

SPANISH INTONATION

Definition: Spanish Intonation is the variation of pitch in the pronunciation of words to convey an affirmation, question or exclamation. For example: “mi Madre está en casa” is an affirmation, and has a sound different from a question that is obtained by adding the symbols “¿?” in the same sentence: “¿mi madre está en casa?” has a different intonation even though the words are the same.

In Spanish the tone for a given word does not alter its meaning; however it varies its pragmatic interpretation:
¡Adelante!

¿Adelante?

Example: The following sentences have different sounds and different meanings.

  • Is my father cooking? —> ¿Está mi papá cocinando?
  • My father is cooking —> Mi papá está cocinando

Intonation in Spanish is used for several purposes:

  • Marking of interrogative and exclamatory sentences.
  • Marking of the topic (theme) – rheme and topicalization, etc.
  • Paralinguistic and extralinguistic information: used to give expression to the feelings that accompany the emission of a certain statement. Such as anger, irony, doubt.

It is an important grammar topic in all languages, because it helps us with the correct pronunciation of a foreign language. There are other languages which involves stress and rhythm.

The intonation is a supra-segmental phenomenon because it transmits information to a level above lexicon. This information allows us to distinguish two complete sentences that are otherwise identical phonetically, for example:

  • ¿Tú trabajas en el banco? (Do youwork in the bank?)
  • Tú trabajas en el banco (You work in the bank)

Enunciative scheme:

The normal tone is reached, from the first syllable accented; with this tone is pronounced the whole message, until the last stressed syllable, where the pitch falls seriously.

Interrogative scheme:

The first accented syllable is raised something about the normal pitch. From here the following syllables form a slightly descending scale to the last syllable where the pitch rises again.

Exclamatory scheme:

The body starts above the normal pitch and quickly descends into its final branch below the normal pitch.

Intonation in Spanish

Alphabet: Alphabet Pronunciation

LetterSpanish NameSpanish ExampleEnglish Example
aaPapáFather
bbeBarcoBoat
cceCarroCar
chcheMuchachoChange
ddeDadoDetective
eeEscobaEgg
fefeFabricaFactory
ggeGorraGoverment
hhacheHonra“h” is always silent
iiPolicíaPolice
jjotaJarraJustice
kkaKiloKilometer
leleLagunaLaundry
llelleLlama 
memeMarinoMother
neneNarizNouse
ñeñeCañaCanyon
ooVotarVote
ppePePeru
qcuQuímicaChemistry
rereParo 
seseSopaSoup
tteTextoText
uuUnicornioboot
vuveVendajebandage
wVe bobleWashingtonWashington
xequisExcelenteExcellent
yI griegaYucaYucatan
zzetaZorroan ‘s’ sound, as in ‘socks’

Stress rules in Spanish words

  • The word will have a written accent ( ´ ) if finishes in “n”, “s” or a vowel.
    E.g. camión (truck), ratón (mouse), perdón (sorry).
  • If the stress is in the third last one or before, the word always has the written accent.
    E.g. ídolo (idol), cómpralo (buy it), teléfono (phone).
  • If the stress is in the syllable just before the last one the word will have a written accent ( ´ ) if does not finish in “n”, “s” or a vowel.
    E.g. cárcel (prison), cráter (crater), mártir (martyr).

Examples of Intonation and rhythm

SpanishPronunciationEnglish
Carlos entiendeCar-los en-tien-deCarlos understands
tu escuelatu es-cue-layour school
lluvia y nievellu-via y nie-verain and snow
¿tienes sueño?¿tie-nes sue-ño?Do you dream?

Read more: Spanish Phrases for Meeting and Greeting

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