tone / tōn/ • n. 1. the overall quality of a musical or vocal sound: the piano tone appears monochrome or lacking in warmth. ∎ a modulation of the voice expressing a particular feeling or mood: a firm tone of voice. ∎ a manner of expression in writing: there was a general tone of ill-concealed glee in the reporting.2. the general character of a group of people or a place or event: a bell would lower the tone of the place. ∎ inf. an atmosphere of respectability or class: they don't feel he gives the place tone.3. a musical sound, esp. one of a definite pitch and character. ∎ a musical note, warble, or other sound used as a particular signal on a telephone or answering machine. ∎ Phonet. (in some languages, such as Chinese) a particular pitch pattern on a syllable used to make semantic distinctions. ∎ Phonet. (in some languages, such as English) intonation on a word or phrase used to add functional meaning.4. (also whole tone) a basic interval in classical Western music, equal to two semitones and separating, for example, the first and second notes of an ordinary scale (such as C and D, or E and F sharp); a major second or whole step.5. the particular quality of brightness, deepness, or hue of a tint or shade of a color: an attractive color that is even in tone and texture | stained glass in vivid tones of red and blue. ∎ the general effect of color or of light and shade in a picture. ∎ a slight degree of difference in the intensity of a color.6. (also muscle tone) the normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle. ∎ Physiol. the normal level of activity in a nerve fiber.• v. [tr.] 1. give greater strength or firmness to (the body or a part of it): exercise tones up the muscles. ∎ [intr.] (tone up) (of a muscle or bodily part) became stronger or firmer.2. [intr.] (tone with) harmonize with (something) in terms of color: the rich orange color of the wood tones beautifully with the yellow roses.3. Photog. give (a monochrome picture) an altered color in finishing by means of a chemical solution.PHRASAL VERBS: tone something down make something less harsh in sound or color. ∎ make something less extreme or intense: she saw the need to tone down her protests.DERIVATIVES: toned adj. [in comb.] the fresh-toned singing.tone·less adj.tone·less·ly adv.
Tone group and breath groupNormal speech does not consist of unorganized strings of words, but stretches of words in the utterance of which breath and tone are integral parts. The breath group is a group of words uttered on a single breath, after which the speaker either stops speaking or draws breath to continue. This group may or may not correspond to phrases and sentences as recorded in writing or print, and will consist of one or more further groups of words organized in terms of tone. Such a further group is a tone group or tone unit. Major tone groups correspond more or less closely to sentences of prose, while minor tone groups (those which phoneticians have analysed in particular detail) are phrasal or lexical. The division of tone groups in SPEECH is analogous to punctuation in writing, and in historical terms the conventions of PUNCTUATION have by and large arisen as attempts to reflect on a surface such aspects of speech as tones and pauses for breath or effect. Where a punctuation mark like a period or a comma is appropriate in writing, a tone-group boundary is usually appropriate in speech. However, the reverse is not true: if a spoken text is written down, the position of many tone-group boundaries cannot be marked by punctuation.
The constituents of the tone groupThe nature of the tone group relates to the natural RHYTHM, stress, and intonation of English. Each group contains one or more stressed syllables known as the nucleus, the tonic syllable(s), or the tonic(s): for example, the capitalized syllables in YES and in OH YES it is. The nucleus is often assumed to be the most prominent syllable in the tone group, but this is not always the case. Any syllables following the nucleus form the tail: for example, it is in Yes it is, -shire in YORK-shire. If there is more than one stressed syllable, the first is referred to as the onset: the OH in OH YES it is, the NEW in NEW YORK is big. The term head is used for a group of syllables beginning with the onset up to but not including the nucleus. Any weak syllables preceding the onset are generally known as the prehead: for example, she in she WON'T. A combination of prehead, nucleus, and tail occurs in TasM Ania. The end of a major tone group is typically marked by a pattern indicating finality: for example, a fall in pitch to close a statement. Nonfinal minor tone groups are often marked by levelling off in the pitch contour, or by a rise in pitch: for example, in a list-like series, with a fall on the closing item.
Individual tonesThere are five tones in English: the falling tone or fall, the rising tone or rise, the rise–fall, the fall–rise, and the level tone: (1) The fall moves from a higher to a lower pitch, and there are two subtypes. A low fall is used to end statements, give orders, ask non-emphatic wh-questions, and ask emphatic and rhetorical yes–no questions. The high fall is used in contrastive stress: for example, in John loves Mary it is on John if he is being contrasted with Bill, on loves if it is contrasted with hates, and on Mary if she is contrasted with Helen. (2) The rise moves from a lower to a higher pitch, and there are two subtypes. The low rise is used for incomplete statements (often signalling an intention to continue speaking), in listing (until the end, when the tone falls), for requests, and in expressions of politeness and interest. The high rise occurs in asking non-emphatic yes-no questions, echo questions, and emphatic why-questions. (3) The rise–fall moves from a lower to a higher pitch, then back. It is like the fall, but more emphatic or exclamatory, and may also express disagreement and irony. It is rare in RP, but common in some other varieties, such as WelshE, IrE, and IndE. In varieties which do not use it much, its actual or apparent overuse can suggest naïvety, unwarranted enthusiasm, and a patronizing attitude. (4) The fall-rise moves from a higher to a lower pitch, then back. It may express assertion and contradiction. (5) The level tone is one in which the ‘slope’ of the pitch movement is not enough for it to be classed as a rise or a fall. Its functions are similar to those of the rise. See INTONATION.
So tonal XVIII. — medL. tonālis; see -AL1 — tonality XIX.
1. Mus. sound, as in analysis to show that a vn. note has several different tones.
2. Interval of major 2nd, e.g. C–D, E–F♯.
3. Quality of sound, as in ‘sweet tone’, ‘harsh tone’, ‘dry tone’.
4. Plainsong melody, as in Gregorian tone.
5. Amer. usage for ‘note’, hence 12-tone mus. and tone-row instead of 12-note and note-row.