When speaking, is there a specific term for the inflection of one’s voice when adding a parenthetical comment such as,

"I am, however, unsure about this."

That drop in pitch when one says “however,” that is what I’m asking about.

Thank you

  • @KannE Thanks. Hopefully someone will have an answer.
    – user320354
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 5:33
  • 2
    They don't have an answer, either. There's no canonical term. I call it "flatting", because it usually is a little lower in tone than the normal intonation, and it's maintained without much tonal variation. This is the tonal register used for presupposed material. Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 15:10
  • 1
    HeWhoShallNotBeNamed: Nothing to worry. If needed, the question will get closed here and migrated to the appropriate alternate site. In any case, as @JohnLawler noted, there's no canonical term for this.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 6:14
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    @JohnLawler: That's a nice expression. In music, the ♭ symbol is derived from the Italian bemolle.
    – jxh
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 19:32
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    sotto voce seems somewhat related, but generally (as KannE mentions) means lowering the volume, not pitch, of your voice.
    – starwed
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


1) There is no single, agreed-upon term for the prosodic pattern of parenthetical constituents.
2) The most common and theory-neutral term is comma intonation (e.g. Emonds 1976, Culicover 1992, Brinton 2002, Huddleston & Pullum 2002, etc.).
3) Some researchers, especially those working on the interaction between syntax and prosody, use the term parenthetical dip following work by Dutch linguist Carla Schelfhout (e.g. Heringa 2012). I find this term quite adequate.
4) Scholars who are interested mainly in the semantics of parentheticals tend to have a more fanciful terminology (e.g. the introduction of a comma operator or comma feature in Potts 2007, the rule Align R and so-called comma phrases and lower order prosodic constituents in Selkirk 2005, etc.).
5) The actual phonetic realization of parentheticals is remarkably complex. Scientists working on the different phonetic attributes of parenthetical intonation (e.g. for artificial speech) tend to not have one comprehensive term for the phenomenon because they dissect it into its constituent parts, such as 'maximum and minimum pitch levels', 'high and low tones' (see ToBI), 'length of pauses' or 'intonational phrasing' etc. (For a summary see for instance Bodenbender 1999.)
6) Irrespective of the syntactic pattern involved, the following collocates are commonly used to describe intonation: intonational contour, intonational pattern, prosodic cue and prosodic structure.

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