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ToBI (/ˈtbi/;[1] an abbreviation of tones and break indices) is a set of conventions for transcribing and annotating the prosody of speech. The term "ToBI" is sometimes used to refer to the conventions used for describing American English specifically,[2] which was the first ToBI system, developed by Mary Beckman and Janet Pierrehumbert, among others.[3] Other ToBI systems have been defined for a number of languages; for example, J-ToBI refers to the ToBI conventions for Tokyo Japanese,[4] and an adaptation of ToBI to describe Dutch intonation was developed by Carlos Gussenhoven, and called ToDI.[5] Another variation of ToBI, called IViE (Intonational Variation in English), was established in 1998 to enable comparison between several dialects of British English.[6]


A full ToBI transcription consists of six parts: (a) an audio recording, (b) an electronic print-out or paper record of the F0 (fundamental pitch), (c) a tones tier, with an analysis of the tonal events in terms of H and L, (d) a words tier with the words of the utterance in ordinary writing, (e) a break-index tier showing the strength of the junctures, and (f) a miscellaneous tier with comments.[7]

Tonal events[edit]

Tonal events include pitch accents, phrase accents, and boundary tones.

Pitch accents, written as H* or L* (high and low tones, respectively), are typically realized on words that carry the most information in a sentence. For example, in the sentence "Mary went to the store to get some milk", a natural pronunciation would include pitch accents on "Mary", "store", and "milk". Other kinds of pitch accents include L*+H (a syllable which starts with a low accent and then rises) and L+H* (again low-high on one syllable, but with the second part accented).[8]

Phrase accents, written H- or L-, are the tones between a pitch accent and a boundary tone. For example, the intonation at the end of a question might be H*L-H%, indicating that the pitch starts high, falls to a low, and rises again; or L*H-H%, indicating that the pitch starts low, then rises steadily to a high.[8]

Boundary tones, written with H% and L%, are affiliated not to words but to phrase edges. For example, the sentence "Mary went to the store" can be pronounced as a statement or a question ("Mary went to the store." vs. "Mary went to the store?"). The contrast between the statement and the question is signalled by a boundary tone at the end of the phrase: a low boundary tone causes a falling pitch contour, signalling the statement, whereas a high boundary tone causes a rising pitch contour, signalling the question.[citation needed]

Break indices[edit]

Break indices are numbers indicating how strong the break is between words:[8]

  • 0 = clitic boundary, e.g. who's
  • 1 = normal word boundary
  • 2 = perceived juncture with no intonation effect, or apparent intonational boundary without a pause or any other clues
  • 3 = intermediate phrase, marked with H- or L-.
  • 4 = full intonation phrase, marked L% or H%, at the end of a phrase or sentence

The English ToBI standard distinguishes four or five levels of boundary strength, corresponding roughly to breaks between constituents at different levels of the Prosodic Hierarchy.[9][10] One signal of boundary strength is lengthening of the preceding syllable: the stronger the boundary, the more lengthening of the preceding syllable.[11] In some versions, level 2 is omitted.


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  2. ^ Beckman, M. E., Hirschberg, J., & Shattuck-Hufnagel, S. (2005). The original ToBI system and the evolution of the ToBI framework. In S.-A. Jun (ed.) Prosodic Typology -- The Phonology of Intonation and Phrasing
  3. ^ Silverman, Kim; Beckman, Mary; Pitrelli, John; Ostendorf, Mari; Wightman, Colin; Price, Patti; Pierrehumbert, Janet; Hirschberg, Julia (1992). "TOBI: A Standard for Labeling English Prosody". International Conference Spoken Language Processing. Banff, Canada: 867–870.
  4. ^ Venditti, J. J. (2005). The J_ToBI model of Japanese intonation. In Sun-Ah Jun (ed.) Prosodic Typology: The Phonology of Intonation and Phrasing, pp. 172-200.
  5. ^ Gussenhoven, Carlos (2010). "Transcription of Dutch Intonation" in Sun-Ah Jun Prosodic Typology: The Phonology of Intonation and Phrasing. Oxford Scholarship Online, chapter 5. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199249633.001.0001.
  6. ^ Cooper, S. (2015) "Intonation in Anglesey Welsh". Bangor University PhD thesis, p. 32.
  7. ^ Cooper, S. (2015) "Intonation in Anglesey Welsh". Bangor University PhD thesis, p. 29.
  8. ^ a b c Port, R. ToBI Intonation Transcription Summary
  9. ^ Selkirk, E. (1984). Phonology and syntax. MIT Press: Cambridge.
  10. ^ Nespor, M. and I. Vogel. 1986. Prosodic Phonology. Foris.
  11. ^ Wightman, C. W., Shattuck-Hufnagel, S., Ostendorf, M., & Price, P.J. (1992). Segmental durations in the vicinity of prosodic phrase boundaries. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 91(3), 1707-1717.

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