Tone of Voice

Facts About Tone of Voice

Tone of voice is the manner in which a verbal statement is presented, including its rhythm, breathiness, hoarseness, or loudness. It reflects psychological arousal, emotion, and mood. It may also carry social information, as in a sarcastic, superior, or submissive manner of speaking.

Our vocalizationsOpens in new window, both while speaking and apart from speech, reflect three basic sound modes, as in using a low-pitched, low and loud, or high-pitched voice to argue a discussion point (Givens, 1999).

Tone of voice is an important means of emotional expression. According to Argyle (1992), the pattern of the pitchOpens in new window of an utterance ‘frames’ it as suspicious and hostile, funny, sarcastic, serious, and so on; a clear example is the rise in pitch at the end of a question.

Stress can be placed on particular words to emphasize them or to indicate which of several possible meanings is intended; for instance, ‘I am selected to the football team’ will change in meaning depending on which word the emphasis is put on.

A significant number of voice qualities are universal across all human cultures, though they are also subject to cultural modification and shaping. Across the globe, adults use higher pitched voices to speak to infants and young children. The softer pitch is innately ‘friendly’ and suggests a non-aggressive, non-hostile pose.

With each other, men and women use higher pitched voices in greetings, to show harmlessness and to invite physical closeness. In almost every language speakers use a rising intonation to ask a question. The higher register appeases the request for information and is often accompanied by diffident palm-up gestures and by submissive shoulder-shrugs (Givens, 1999).

There are various things that can vary and also affect our perception of tone of voice. They include:

  • Increasing loudness or softness (of a syllable, word phrase or sentence).
  • Raised or lowered pitch can convey things like fear, anxiety, or tenseness, or designate a question.
  • Raspiness due to muscular tensions in the larynx when someone speaks. Tenseness will result in a more raspy type of utterance, for example, a kind of choked sound.
  • Drawling or clipping which is associated somewhat with accent and whether the speaker is drawing out individual syllables or clipping them.
  • Tempo can be increased or decreased. Speaking quickly tends to communicate urgency or a high emotional state. Slow tempos give the impression of uncertainty.