ToBI Intonation Transcription Summary

By R. Port, for L306, Introduction to Phonetics.

This scheme for transcribing intonation and accent in English was developed by Janet Pierrehumbert and Mary Beckman in the early 1990s. It is fairly easy to learn and flexible enough to handle the significant intonational features of most utterances in English.

Metrical Autosegmental Phonology.

We assume several simultaneous TIERS of phonological information. Assume hierarchical nesting of shorter units within longer units: word, foot, intonation phrases, etc. Assume one (or more) stressed syllables per major lexical word. "ToBi" = ``tones and break indices''

Tones. Normally, an intonation phrase has one Pitch Accent (but sometimes many more), marking a specific word, a Final Boundary Tone (marking the very end of the phrase) and a Phrasal Tone (filling in the interval between the last Pitch Accent and the final phrase boundary).

Phrase Tones

L-, H- PHRASAL TONE which fills the interval between the last pitch accent and the final boundary tone. The default is L-. H- adds some semantic content.

L%, H% FINAL BOUNDARY TONE at every full intonation phrase boundary This pitch effect appears only on the last 1-2 syllables. The default is L%. H% is used for special contexts.

%H INITIAL BOUNDARY TONE. Since the default is %L, it is not marked. %H is rare and semantically insists on what the listener should already know. Eg, if I say `Never eat more than one banana a day', you might respond `BaNAnas aren't DANgerous' with %H L* L* L-H%.

Thus, leaving aside the %H, we find that full intonation phrases come in four typical types:

L- L% The default DECLARATIVE phrase.
L- H% The LIST ITEM intonation (nonfinal items only, of course). Eg, "I need food L-H%, shelter L-H%, and comfort L-L%." Or even "You said you would run home this afternoon L-H%, grab your golf clubs L-H%, jump in the car L-H% and race to the club L-L%.
H- H% YES-NO QUESTION. Eg, "Are you going L* today H-H%?" Or "So then are you going L* to the store this afternoon? H-H%?" (where pitch rises right after the L* and stays high til the end).
H- L% The PLATEAU. A previous H* or complex accent `upsteps' the final L% to an intermediate level. "I just TOLD you why" L+H* !H-L%

Pitch Accents

These mark the stressed syllable of specific words for a certain semantic effect (though the semantics is not completely clear). An intonation phrase typically has one, but may have several. (Multiple pitch accents occur only in complex discourse situations.) The star (*) marks the tone that will occur on the stressed syllable of this word. If there is a second tone, it merely occurs nearby.

H* -- PEAK ACCENT. The default accent which implies a local pitch maximum plus some degree of subsequent fall.
L* -- LOW ACCENT. Also common.
L*+H -- SCOOP. Low tone at beginning of target syllable with pitch rise.
L+H* -- RISING PEAK. High pitch on target syllable after a sharp rise from before.
!H -- DOWNSTEP HIGH. Only occurs following another H in the SAME intermediate phrase (or full phrase). This H is pitched somewhat lower than the earlier one. Implies pitch stays fairly high from earlier H to the downstepped one. Can be either !H* or !H-. The pattern [H* !H- L%] is known as the CALLING CONTOUR. Eg "Oh JIM-MY!" H*!H-L% (as opposed to "Oh JIMmy" H* L-L%).

Definition: The NUCLEAR ACCENT is a pitch accent that occurs near the end of an intonation phrase. Eg, `cards' in: "Take H*+L a pack of cards H*L-L%"

Break Indices.

Boundaries between words are called break indices and come in 5 levels:

0 clitic boundary. Eg "who's"
1 normal word-word boundary. Eg "see those"
2 either perceived disjuncture with no intonation effect, or apparent intonational boundary but no slowing or other break cues.
3 intermediate phrase. Gets phrase accent, but not terminal tone. Marked with phrase tone: L- or H-. Serves as a domain for downstep.
4 full intonation phrase - phrase or sentence final L or H. Marked with L% or H%.

The distinction 0 vs. 1 is usually easy, and 4 is easy (with a strong perceptual break). But 2 and 3 are less common and more problematic. Note that intonation is only ONE of the processes that depends on these boundaries (also, eg, allophones of stops like /t/ and /d/ in `See Pat. Over there.' vs. `See Pat over there').

For more information with recorded examples, see the Ohio State Univ ToBI Guidelines pages.

RP Jan/99