Accent Reduction online by Judy Tobe

October 2010 Archives

Intonation in Questions

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There are different intonation patterns for questions in English that speakers must use if they want to sound like a native speaker and, more importantly, to avoid listener's misunderstanding.

1. Yes/no questions - if the expected answer to a question is "yes" or "no" use rising intonation on the final syllable:

a. Did you finish the project?

b. Do you think he will be there?

c. Was the assignment difficult?

d. Is there anything I can help you do?

e. Will you be ready to leave at 3 o'clock?


2. When asking questions beginning with - who, what, where, why, when or how, intonation should jump up on the stressed syllable and then fall:

a. Who is going to the meeting with you?

b. What is the name of the organization?

c. Where are you having pain?

d. When will you get the results?

e. Why does he always say that?

f. How should I contact him?

LISTEN: Question Intonation.mp3


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. The EEOC includes accent bias in its definition of employment discrimination on the basis of national origin. An employment decision based on a foreign accent violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unless it "materially interferes" with that person's ability to perform the duties of the job.

Because linguistic characteristics are a component of national origin, employers should carefully scrutinize employment decisions that are based on an accent to ensure that they do not violate Title VII.

An employment decision based on a foreign accent does not violate Title VII if an individual's accent materially interferes with the ability to perform job duties. This assessment depends on the specific duties of the person in question and the extent to which the individual's accent affects his or her ability to perform job duties. Employers must distinguish between a merely discernible foreign accent and one that interferes with communication skills necessary to perform the job.

Do you feel that you have ever been discriminated against because of your accent?  

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