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Same difference: the phonetic shape of High Rising Terminals in London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2018

Erez Levon*
Department of Linguistics, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road London E1 4NS,


This article investigates patterns of variation in the phonetic shape of High Rising Terminal (HRT) intonation contours on declarative utterances in London English. Previous research has demonstrated that there are two pragmatically distinct meanings for HRTs in London, distributed across different groups of users and conversational contexts. Based on current theories of intonational meaning, we would expect this pragmatic differentiation to correlate with differences in tune shape, given the assumption that there is a one-to-one correspondence between a contour’s meaning and its phonological form. Following the example of prior studies of HRTs in other locations, analyses focus on three phonetic properties: rise excursion size, rise dynamism, and the alignment of the rise onset with the nuclear syllable. Unlike much previous research elsewhere, mixed-model regression analyses demonstrate that pragmatic differences in how HRTs are used in London do not correlate with differences in the phonetic characteristics under investigation. The discussion focuses on how to reconcile this result with theories of intonational meaning, arguing that the findings for London may be due to the relatively recent arrival of HRTs in the variety, and, as a result, the lack of a differentiated field of form–meaning correspondences for the contour in the region.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018

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