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Linguistic Applications in Paralanguage

The study of paralanguage focuses on how you say what you say. Two identical verbal messages may communicate entirely different meanings when the tone of voice is different. The tone of our voice, the loudness, softness, rate of speech and the words we choose to accent, communicate a great deal.

Paralanguage has several component parts: voice qualities, voice qualifiers, voice characteristics and verbal segregates.

1. Voice qualities:

Voice qualities include such things as volume, rate of speech, pitch, rhythm, pronunciation and enunciation.

a) Volume:

A person may sometimes speak louder to attract other’s attention. But an overly loud speech can be annoying or disturbing. On the other hand, though a soft voice conveys a sense of calm, in a business setting it may give an impression of weakness or indecisiveness. Thus, the volume that may be right in one setting may convey a negative message in a different situation.

b) Rate of Speech:

On an average, it has been found that people speak at about 150 words a minute. When a person speaks much higher or lower rates, he may have a negative impact. Fast speech often makes people nervous, while slow speech causes boredom or leads people to believe that the speaker is not quite sure about what to say next.

c) Voice Pitch:

Voice pitch is often required with emotion. High pitch shrieking generally indicates excitement or nervousness. A low pitch usually commands attention and respect because it indicates that the speaker is in control of the situation.

d) Rhythm:

Rhythm refers to the pattern of the voice: whether it is regular or irregular; whether it flows smoothly or moves in fits & starts. A smooth rhythm, like a moderately low pitch, indicates a confident, authoritative attitude, while an uneven rhythm may convey lack of proper preparation and lack of clarity.

e) Pronunciation and Enunciation:

Good pronunciation is the correct oral delivery of a word. The vowel sounds must be said correctly and the right syllables must be accented. People who mispronounce words are thought to be not well educated as those who pronounce words correctly. Thus, the way you pronounce words may play an important role in building your image.

Enunciation also relates to the correctness of how a word is pronounced, but is more a matter of clear articulation. People with poor enunciation drop word endings, slur their speech or do not speak clearly. Poor enunciation may indicate carelessness but overly precise enunciation may sometimes seem phony or pretentious.

2. Voice qualifiers:

Temporary variations in pitch, volume and rate of speech are known as voice qualifiers. If one is aware of the normal voice qualities of a person, it is easy to detect the voice qualifiers in his speech. For instance, if your secretary, who normally talks in a low, even tone, suddenly starts talking faster and louder, you should be able to tell that something is not quite right. He may be conveying impatience, anger or excitement.

3. Vocal characteristics:

All of you are familiar with certain audible sounds like sighing, laughing, crying, clearing the throat, whistling and groaning. These sounds, which serve to communicate some meaning, are called vocal characteristics. As a communication expert put it: “Awareness of the more subtle voice characteristics, such as pleasantness, especially in combination with voice qualifiers, can do much to help individuals and organizations improve communication. Think, for instance, how much a company’s image can be helped by a receptionist who sounds, both in person and over the telephone, ‘pleasant’, ‘confident’ and ‘competent’.”

4. Vocal segregates:

“Er……um…..will you lend me some money, please?” Now, in this sentence, what do the words, “er”, “um” mean? They don’t mean a thing. Such meaningless words or sounds that are used to punctuate or pace – sentences are called vocal segregates. Sometimes people use filler expressions like “right?” “You know what I mean” or “OK” to fill in their silences. Vocal segregates are usually awkward components of speech and should be avoided as far as possible. These sounds indicate a lack of confidence and exhibit a feeling of stress on the part of the speaker.