The Importance of Intonation

I was consulting the Michigan Academic Speech Corpus recently and discovered this passage that does wonders for demonstrating the purpose of intonation:

SU-f: where’s Jerry? he was here

SU-f: oh no

S13: okay, um, approval, of the agenda why don’t you guys take a second to look over

SU-m: who needs the agenda?

S13: the agenda?

SU-m: okay

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/c/corpus/corpus?c=micase;cc=micase;view=transcript;id=MTG999SU043

I first read this as Where’s Jerry. He was here. Oh No! (meaning “Something horrible must have happened to Jerry”, as opposed to “Oh, I must have been wrong about him being here because I just saw the guy I thought was Jerry before, but now I clearly see that it’s in fact Ali”)
…Who needs the agenda (meaning, “No one needs an agenda, guys. Serious in 2014 we still have agendas?” as opposed to, “I have in my hands more than one copy of the agenda and I will give said copies to people who do not have agendas because we expect that everyone will have a copy of the agenda and read it”)

Reading transcripts of spoken English is also a wonderful way to dispel the myth that spoken English follows the rules of English or even makes the slightest bit of sense out of context.

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