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Paralanguage - Non Verbal Communication


Definitions:  • Features that accompany speech and contribute to communication but are not considered part of the language system
• The nonverbal voice qualities, modifiers, and sounds which we use consciously or unconsciously supporting or contradicting the linguistic, kinesics, or proxemic messages either simultaneously or alternating with them
• How something is said rather than what is said
• Vocal Cues

General Information: Paralanguage is part of nonverbal communication. Paralinguistics are what accompany your words to make up its true meaning. Research on the tone of voice emerged in 1951 by George Trager and Henry Lee Smith and was followed with research of other aspects of paralanguage.

We all know that what you say can have several different meanings depending on how you say it.

Take the notion of sarcasm, for instance. If someone says something with a sarcastic tone, it makes the meaning of what has been said be the complete opposite of what the words actually mean.

Paralanguage can be a confusing factor in intercultural communication. For example, Europeans interpret the loudness of Americans to aggressive behavior, while Americans might think the British are secretive because they talk quietly. Talking speed and the amount of silence in conversations also differ among cultures.

For instance, the Japanese are comfortable having several pauses in their conversations, while Americans and many Arabic people are uncomfortable with any silence.

Ingredients of Paralanguage:

Voice Qualities:

• pitch range
• vocal lip control
• articulation control
• rhythm control
• resonance
• tempo

Vocal Characteristics:

• laughing, crying, whispering, snoring, yelling, moaning, groaning, yawning, whining, sucking, sneezing, sighing, belches, hiccups
• Remember that these characteristics are the vocal aspects of these actions, so imagine that these pictures are making noises.

Voice Qualifiers:

• intensity (overloud, over soft)
• pitch height
• extent

Vocal Segregates:
• "uh"
• "um"
• "uh-huh"
• silent pauses

Messages in the Voice:


Phrases have different messages depending on what parts we emphasize. For instance, take the sentence; she’s giving this money to me.
• She is giving this money to me.
SHE is the one giving the money, nobody else.
• She is giving this money to me.
She is GIVING, not lending.
• She is giving this money to me.
MONEY is being exchanged, not anything else.
• She is giving this money to me.
I am getting the money, nobody else.

The voice is used to infer personality traits.

• An increased rate of speaking generally infers that the individual is more animated and extroverted.
• A flatness in the tone of voice generally indicates more withdrawn and masculine characteristics.
• A nasal sound in one's voice is generally thought of to be undesirable.

The voice is also used to infer emotional states.
Feeling Loudness Pitch Timbre Rate Enunciation
Anger Loud High Blaring Fast clipped
Joy Loud High Moderately Blaring Fast Somewhat Clipped
Sadness Soft Low Resonant Slow Slurred

Bibliography: Web Sources:
Book Sources:
• Kendon, Adam; Harris, Richard M.; and Key, Mary Ritchie. Organization of Behavior in Face-to-Face Interaction. Mouton & Co., 1975.
• Key, Mary Ritchie. Paralanguage and Kinesics (Nonverbal Communication). Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1975.
• Knapp, Mark L. Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1972.
• Rosenfeld, Lawrence B. and Civikly, Jean M. With Words Unspoken the Nonverbal Experience. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976.
• Trenholm, Sarah and Jensen, Arthur. Interpersonal Communication. Wadsworth, Inc., 1988.
• Webster's College Dictionary. "Paralanguage." New York: Random House, 1996.

Contributing Writer: Viki Shah Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism

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