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In phonetics, the melodic pattern of an utterance. Intonation is primarily a matter of variation in the pitch level of the voice (seetone), but in languages such as English, stress and rhythm are also involved. Intonation conveys differences of expressive meaning (e.g., surprise, doubtfulness). In many languages, including English, intonation serves a grammatical function, distinguishing one type of phrase or sentence from another. Thus, it's gone is an assertion when spoken with a drop in pitch at the end, but a question when spoken with a rise in pitch at the end.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on intonation, visit Britannica.com.