I remember reading out loud to my parents when I was a toddler and preschooler. I remember being taught how to change my intonation depending on the punctuation and meaning of the sentence.
I was specifically told to do this because it was boring to listen to words that all sounded the same in monotone.
All those hours and years spent poring over new editions of McGuffy readers with critical feedback at every turn of a phrase, and it was still a surprise to me when my friend suddenly asked me during a walk why this guy in middle school said all his sentences like they were questions.
I stopped walking, just before we reached the library, “How can you say a sentence like a question?” was my immediate and very sentence-like response.
My friend stared at me for a moment before replying. “Well, with a question you raise the pitch at the end of the sentence. You didn’t know that?” I noted how she very clearly raised the pitch at the end of her question, stunned that I hadn’t ever noticed people doing that before.
I, a musician who could play multiple instruments and had taught myself through three years’ worth of piano courses in the space of about 6 months when I was a tween, didn’t know that questions had raised pitches at the ends.
I had always gone by the order of the words and context of the conversation to figure out whether something was a question. Consequently, I always ended up answering rhetorical questions the same way I would regular questions unless they were clearly absurd or obvious.
I remember spending a lot of time in the bathroom when I was a tween/teen. Not terribly unusual behavior for that age – especially being a girl. However, I spent most of my time in there the same way I’d spent my time in the bathroom as a small child: by practicing phrases quietly, but out-loud, to myself.
Commercials were my favorite things to practice to myself in the mirror. They were short and easy to memorize. I practiced the exact intonation, infection, and physical actions of the people in the commercials. Eventually, around high school, I branched out and began making my own scenes based on conversations I’d heard or been part of recently.
As I got older I would specifically focus on recreating conversations that had gone badly – reimagining them with happy endings so that I was able to say the right thing in the right way and magically not have hurt or upset anyone.
Even with all that practice, I still didn’t understand that inflections added actual meanings and didn’t primarily exist to make spoken words and phrases sound less boring.