What is Paralanguage?
Paralanguage is the technical term for the voice cues that accompany spoken words. It is concerned with the sound of the voice and the range of meanings that people convey through their voices rather than the words they use.
The meaning of what you express is contained, in part, in the words you say, but how you say it also contains powerful meanings.
For example, the word “Yes”, can completely convey different meanings, even in the exact same sentence, depending on how it is said—whether it is spoken sincerely or sarcastically.
- The “how”—you say something—is referred to as paralanguage, which includes your conscious or unconscious intonation, accent, pitch Opens in new window, pace, pause, silence, emphasis, word and syllable stress.
- Basically, paralanguage is your voice minus the words you speak. Again, it denotes the tone (sound) of your voice. The sound of your voice communicates, revealing to others your emotional state, attitudes, status, personality, etc.
The tone of your voice can help you communicate what you mean to convey, or it can reveal thoughts you mean to conceal. It can reinforce or negate the words you speak. How you speak influences how others interpret your intentions, as well as how credible, intelligent, or attractive they judge you to be. With this in mind, you may assess yourself by responding to the following questions:
- Does my voice enhance or detract from the impression I make?
- Does my voice support or contradict my intended meaning?
- If I were interacting with me, would I want to listen to the sound of my voice?
Paralanguage, in brief, is a nonverbal code for the way we say something rather than what we say. The two main categories of paralanguage are vocal characteristics and vocal interferences.
Vocal characteristics are the pitch (the highness or lowness of your voice), volume (how loudly or softly you speak), rate (the speed at which you speak) and voice quality (how pleasant or unpleasant your voice sound). Each of these characteristics plays a part in the impression others have of you. For example, a loud voice is usually associated with aggressiveness; people who speak quickly are said to be nervous.
Vocal interferences are the sounds and words we use when we hesitate or are not sure of the right word. We all use the occasional “uh”, “er”, “well”, and “you know” to indicate that we are searching for the right word. But such interferences may become a problem when they pop up too frequently as they can interrupt your listener’s concentration and comprehension. Hesitation can be broken down into filled pauses, also known as vocalized pauses such as “um”, “er”, “ah”, and “uh”; and empty pauses, which consist of silence. Hesitations occur within the speech utterance, as well as at the beginning and at the end. These pauses allow the speaker to collect his/her thoughts and also serve as signals for turn-taking within a face-to-face interaction.
Paralanguage may be considered a type of nonverbal communication Opens in new window, in its broadest sense, as it can suggest many emotional nuances.