Have you ever told your child, “Tell Johnnie you’re sorry you hit him,” and the child obeys and says to Johnny, “I’m sorry I hit you.” And it’s so obvious, she isn’t the least bit sorry and will do it again as soon as your back is turned. How did you know?
The answer to this could be experience. It could also be the intonation your child uses as he mouths the words.
- I’m sorry I hit you? (voice rises at the end of the sentence)
- I’M SORRY I HIT YOU! (forceful and loud, emphasizing “hit you”)
- i’m sorry i hit you (mumbled, monotone)
Our intonation is important, even in a language that doesn’t depend on tone for meaning, such as English. It’s so important, that they are specialized brain cells track intonation.
Listen to or read this interesting NPR report: How Our Brains Figure Out What Words Mean Based On How They’re Said