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What is paralanguage?

“The paralanguage is a vocal aspect of communication, including pitch, tone, and pace”. The non-verbal features that accompany speech and help convey meaning. For example, facial expression, gesticulation, body stance, and tone can help convey additional meaning to the spoken word, these are all examples of communication through paralanguage.


Paralanguage is the non-verbal signals we attach to our speech. For example, the tone of voice is paralanguage. A change in tone of voice suggests a new meaning to the words we speak. Paralanguage is a language; however, it is not spoken in words, but in gestures and nuances. In its simplest form, it can be called "body language," although this is not entirely correct because we usually use paralanguage directly related to our speech.


Argyle (1975, 345) suggests that there are two kinds of non-verbal behavior involved:

  1. Aspects of the voice quality unrelated to the content of what is spoken: tone of the voice which provides information about the emotions; type of voice and accent provides information about personality and group membership.

  2. VOCAL FEATURES which help complete the meaning of what is spoken: pitch, Stress, and timing.

Knapp (1978, 326) considers that paralanguage is concerned with:

  1. Voice quality – pitch range (spread, narrowed), vocal lip control (sharp transition, smooth transition), articulation control (forceful, relaxed), rhythm control (smooth, jerky), resonance (full resonance, thin), and tempo (increased, decreased).

  2. Vocal characterizers - laughing, crying, whispering, moaning, yelling, clearing the throat, sighing, and so forth.

  3. Vocal segregates – "uh", "um", "uh-huh", silent pauses (beyond the usual junctures), and intruding sounds.


Some elements of paralanguage

McKay, Davis, and Fanning (1983, 69-70) provide the following outline of the elements of paralanguage.

Pitch - as the vocal cords are tightened the voice pitch is raised.

Resonance – The shape of the vocal cords and the chest determine the richness or thinness of the voice. This is the resonance. A man with heavy cords and a large chest is likely to have a deep full voice.

Tempo the speed at which the words are spoken reflects the emotions and attitudes. It can also reflect the region or country in which a person grew up. For example a country drawl.

Volume – this is frequently associated with emotions. Loud is seen as angry and aggressive and soft as caring and understanding


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