After seven rounds of balloting, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee is Reince Priebus (Jeff Zeleny, "G.O.P. Elects a New Chairman as Steele Drops Out", NYT 1/14/2011). My reaction is a parochial one: as a linguist interested in prosody, I'm looking forward to Mr. Preibus's contributions to the study of English intonation.
In the tradition of English intonational description that goes back to Henry Sweet, Harold Palmer, and Roger Kingdon, the contours of the tonic syllables of tone-units have come to be called "nuclear tones". There are various inventories and taxonomies of these patterns — thus David Crystal ("The analysis of nuclear tones", in L.R. Waugh & C.H. Van Schooneveld, Eds.,, The melody of language: intonation and prosody, 1979) discusses seven ("Low fall", "High fall", "Low rise", "High rise", "Level", "Rise-fall", and "Fall-rise"), and alludes to others (e.g. "fall-level", "rise-fall-rise").
The question of how to characterize these patterns remains a subject for debate: What are the tonal "atoms" that make up these contours, and how do they combine? What are their dimensions of quantitative variation? For example, American linguists since Pike have generally preferred to decompose rises and falls into sequences of level targets. Other recent approaches have decomposed local regions of pitch contours via orthogonal polynomials or functional principal components analysis. In any system, it's natural to wonder whether the "high" and "low" variants of rises and falls are really qualitatively distinct patterns or just parts of a pitch-range continuum.
The most important difficulty is the lack of any intonational equivalent of psychological "word constancy". If you promise a class of elementary-school kids that the first one to raise a hand when you next say "chickadee" will get a dollar, you can expect some arguments about whose hand went up first, but not about whether you said the word; in contrast, if you offer a reward for flagging your next "high rising nuclear tone" (of course exemplifying it rather than naming it), you'll get confused looks at first, eventually replaced by plenty of arguments about whether you produced one or not.
For similar reasons, it's hard to trust phonetic studies of intonational categories whose data is produced by asking laboratory subjects to pronounce particular contours. But the distribution of English intonational patterns in natural speech seems to be roughly as non-uniform as the distribution of words; and so some contours are less studied than others just because they're usually less common.
This is where Mr. Priebus comes in. Judging from his remarks after being elected the new chair of the Republican National Committee, he's a reliable source of the "level" nuclear tone, which is otherwise somewhat difficult to find:
A few examples pulled out for ear training purposes:
I hope that this will turn out to be a stable feature of his rhetorical style.
[Update — his campaign video is also enriched in level nuclear tones, e.g. here:
Of course, the fact that there's apparently a lower pitch target just before the tonic syllable may suggest a different analysis to some…]