Unit 3: Patterns in spoken and written language

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • understand the five aspects of pronunciation
  • be able to name six types of English sounds  
  • be able to differentiate word stress from sentences stress
  • know when to use falling and rising intonation
  • understand the types of sound changes that affect word boundaries 

Activity 1: Genre and language


Both spoken and written language have many similiaries. Both use grammatical and lexical forms. However, the written form leaves a permanent record of the message, and so the written form tends to be more formal. Formality, however, is not determined only by whether the language is written or spoken. The particular genre is important. The example sentences below show how written texts vary in register. The list begins with the more informal registers and progressively increases in formality.

  • CUL8TR --- unconvential abbreviation
  • see ya later --- slang
  • see you later alligator --- inappropriate word choice
  • see you later :) --- emoticons added
  • see you later --- punctuation omitted
  • See you later. --- standard

Work alone and decide which of these genres are formal or informal. Be ready to justify your choice.

  1. conversation
  2. personal letter
  3. interview
  4. text message
  5. business letter
  6. academic presentation
  7. graduation thesis
  8. email from student to teacher
  9. email to friend
  10. after dinner speech
  11. greeting

Work with a partner or a small group and decide which of these genres are formal or informal. Ask for and explain the reasons for your choices.

Activity 2: Patterns in spoken language

Listen to the live or recorded lecture.

The image below should help you to take notes.

pronunciation lecture

Activity 3: Sounds

Watch the following video (4 min 58 sec) to understand how to pronounce the consonants and vowels in English.

The chart below shows the phonemic symbols for the 44 sounds in British English. Vowels are divided into two groups: monovowels which have only one sounds, and diphthongs which begin with one sound but transition to another. Monovowels can be divided into two groups: long vowels and short vowels. The phonemic symbol for all long vowels has two dots after the vowel. Consonants are divided into two groups: unvoiced and voiced. Unvoiced sounds, such as /s/ and /t/ are created with no vibration in the voice box while voiced sounds such as /z/ and /d/ need vibration.

pronunciation lecture

Activity 4: Word stress

Work with a partner to identify the word stress in the following list of words.

  1. conversation
  2. personal
  3. letter
  4. interview
  5. text
  6. message
  7. business
  8. academic
  9. graduation
  10. presentation
  11. thesis

Once you have decided the word stress, check the word stress using the word stress function of the Pronunciation scaffolder.

Discuss which patterns of word stress are most common in English.

Activity 5: Sentence stress

Watch this excellent introduction to sentence stress until 8:22.

Activity 6: Intonation


Two functions of intonation are grammatical and attitudinal. The grammatical function may be thought of as the default. This is the intonation that you should use in most situations. The rules given here are for pedagogic purposes and should be considered as simplified rules that are true most (but not all) of the time.

Work with a partner. Identify the intonation that would most likely be used for the questions and answers in this dialogue.

  1. What is your name?
  2. John Smith
  3. Should I call you John or Mr. Smith?
  4. Please call me John.
  5. Is John a popular name?
  6. Yes, I it is.

Practise saying the following sentences

  1. Why did you do that? [ curious ]
  2. Why did you do that? [ angry ]
  3. Why did you do that? [ surprised ]
  4. What on earth is that? [ shocked ]
  5. Good morning. [ to teacher ]
  6. Good morning. [ to someone you want like to date ]

Activity 7: Linking

The word boundaries in spoken English are not the same as the word boundaries in written English. When we speak very slowly, we pronounce each word clearly and separately, but in normal speed speech, the sounds may be omitted, changed, move or be added in. These changes are decided by the final sound of a word and the initial sound of the following word.

Say these sentences quickly. Focus on the word boundary between the yellow words. Detect any sound changes.

  1. Point with your finger.
  2. Point at the whiteboard.
  3. Point to the door.
  4. Go away.
  5. Come in.
  6. The plane landed at the airport.

Share your ideas in the discussion forum. Remember the first person who submits a post may be wrong, so think about the answer carefully!

Knowledge and application

Activity 8: Spoken language analysis

Source an audio sound file of a short English sentence. This may be from a movie, serial drama, song or commerical. Write a short analysis of the spoken sentence in the file explaining and interesting points regarding sounds, stress, intonation and/or linking. Submit the audio file and your analysis in pdf format via ELMS.

Your recordings may be uploaded to this website.


Make sure you can explain the differences between the following in simple English:

  1. consonant vs vowel
  2. monovowel vs diphthong
  3. short vowel vs long vowel
  4. word stress vs sentence stress
  5. attitudinal intonation vs grammatical intonation
  6. falling intonation vs rising intonation

Running count: 52 of 71 pattern-related concepts covered so far.