Of valley girls and unemployed expats

I always thought that upspeak in English is a strange phenomenon but nothing to complain about just as much. Then, I got into contact with this person who is from my own country and lives here in Ireland but whose English is by far worse. At least it feels that way. I realized that the reason is not so much that he makes grammatical mistakes or has a strong accent (he does make some mistakes in terms of pronunciation, but I have heard much more glaring ones in English classes at college). What I realized was that his intonation and prosody was so off that it was actually hard to understand him.

Okay, prosody is a topic I have not yet covered, in anything like great detail, but it definitely deserves being covered. Most conlangers do not mention intonation in their grammars. At least not the ones, I know of. Personally I do mention it in passing in Rejistanian, but have not thought about it for my other languages (if you could see me now, oyu’d notice that I blushed in embarrassment). It is an interesting topic and one I need to read up about more myself.

I suspect that again the oral exolangs are in the best position here. They can be however their creators want them to be without any qualms about feasibility (on that note: how do the likes of Na’vi, Klingon and Dothraki do it? Keep an English inflection in order not to confuse actors and fans? Go wild?). Auxlangs are at a much worse position. People do not only have a different linguistic background but probably will use the inflection of their native language (or just a language they know very well*) for the auxlang. This can create a set of problems in how to distinguish yes/no questions from statements. The typical way to do that is via a question particle, a way which is also done in some natural languages (for example colloquial German uses “ne” at the end of yes/no questions). That has a set of problems like the placement and how that affects the intended correct intonation, but I guess the other ideas are worse in terms of ease. They might not be though, as I said, difficulty is not only the existance of a strange rule but also its application. Artlangers, of course are free to do as they like.

So, how to create a conintonation and conprosody? To be honest, I am not that sure. I would suggest babbling. Seriously, babble in random sounds in the vague conphonology and try just by that to convey something. Try to make it sound as if a teacher instructs a class or as if a child tells a sibling to be fruitfull and multily, just not in these exact words 😉 . Maybe this will lead you to something good. Don’t forget to document speech in your conlang with recordings to retain these things.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Keri  On January 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    I’ve never heard it called “upspeak” before! I think the first I ever noticed it was from that “Family Guy” episode referenced in the Wikipedia article. People use it a little around here (Connecticut), but not excessively. Even if they did, I usually find things like that really interesting, but not necessarily complaint-worthy- except when they get in the way of communication, like in your situation!

    It’s very interesting that it was his intonation by itself that made him hard to understand. It’s definitely a feature of language that’s often taken for granted, especially(?) by conlangers.

    I think it would be interesting to try recording myself speaking my conlang, but I’m afraid I would pronounce it all wrong! I have in my head how I want to it sound, and I know how to describe it, but when I try to speak it it’s hard. I suppose it’s a bit like trying to teach yourself to pronounce a natlang from a book. Just because I made it up doesn’t make it any easier =) I’m sure native speakers would have a hard time understanding me!

  • Keri  On January 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Sorry to double-comment, but I found this book on Google books just now for anyone interested in the topic. The full book is available to read online for free:

    Intonation and its uses: melody in grammar and discourse
    By Dwight Le Merton Bolinger

    Looks like an interesting resource.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: