Understanding Pitch, Accent, Tone, and Stress in Interpreting

by | Jun 1, 2021

Pitch, accent, tone, and stress can be critical and might mean the difference between a poorly interpreted speech and an interpretation that sounds like it came straight out of the mouth of the speaker.

But what exactly do these terms mean, and why are they so important? Here’s what you need to know!



The first thing we need to address is accent. It’s not the geographical accent you might be thinking about where regional pronunciations vary depending on where you are located within a country. The kind of accent we’re referring to describes the focus that’s placed on specific syllables to distinguish them from the rest. Depending on the language, there can be a pitch accent or stress accent, and sometimes even a combination of vocal features that create an accent.



Pitch is about how high or low someone’s voice is perceived to be. So, it’s really about how the ears hear the sound. Sounds aren’t high or low on their own. They have high or low frequencies, which are translated into the pitch by the ear.

Some languages like Swedish and Japanese are pitch-accent languages where one syllable is marked by a different pitch. But all languages use pitch for intonation. And intonation refers to the rise and fall of a person’s voice. Raising your tone at the end of an English sentence makes it sound like a question. Sentences without any intonation sound monotone and dull.



Tone focuses on specific languages that use pitch to differentiate between words. While they’re similar, it’s important not to confuse tone and intonation with each other. Intonation uses pitch to change a phrase’s meaning on a sentence level, but tone uses pitch in every single word. In English, the tone doesn’t change a word’s meaning, but in tonal languages, the pitch can change a word’s meaning entirely.



Stress, which is not the same as accent, by the way, is where the emphasis is put in a sentence. Stress is generally achieved by adjusting loudness, pitch, and the length of a syllable. The stress in “elephant”, for example, is on the first syllable.

Stress varies from one language to another. For example, stress is variable in the English language, so the stress in words is unpredictable. But Spanish, on the other hand, has more predictable word stress that’s generally indicated with accent marks.


Final Thoughts

When interpreting between source and target languages, it is essential to consider how pitch, tone, accent, and stress can alter or change the meaning on sentence or word level. To establish effortless communication with your target audience, always use the services of native-speaking interpreters.

At Day Interpreting, we’re experts in dealing with these kinds of challenges. In fact, we thrive on it. Our expertly trained team of professional interpreters will ensure your message gets across without losing its meaning or intended impact. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our wide range of interpreting services that can help your bridge the language gap!


Seldean Smith
Seldean Smith

Seldean is a multi-skilled content wizard that dedicates herself to writing content that goes beyond merely sparking interest in the audience.

Seldean Smith

Seldean is a multi-skilled content wizard that dedicates herself to writing content that goes beyond merely sparking interest in the audience.

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