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Not to be confused with inflection, tone (linguistics), or pitch accent.

In linguistics, intonation is variation of spoken pitch that is not used to distinguish words; instead it is used for a range of functions such as indicating the attitudes and emotions of the speaker, signalling the difference between statements and questions, and between different types of question, focusing attention on important elements of the spoken message and also helping to regulate conversational interaction. It contrasts with tone, in which pitch variation in some languages does distinguish words, either lexically or grammatically. (The term tone is used by some British writers in their descriptions of intonation, but this is to refer to the pitch movement found on the nucleus or tonic syllable in an intonation unit – see Intonation in English: British Analyses of English Intonation, below).

Although intonation is primarily a matter of pitch variation, it is important to be aware that functions attributed to intonation such as the expression of attitudes and emotions, or highlighting aspects of grammatical structure, almost always involve concomitant variation in other prosodic features. Crystal for example says that "...intonation is not a single system of contours and levels, but the product of the interaction of features from different prosodic systems – tone, pitch-range, loudness, rhythmicality and tempo in particular."


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