Paralanguage, also known as vocalics, is a component of meta-communication that may modify meaning, give nuanced meaning, or convey emotion, by using techniques such as prosody, pitch, volume, intonation, etc. Paralanguage may be expressed consciously or unconsciously.
The definition of “vocalics” is the use of non-verbal cues to enhance verbal communication. This includes tonality, pitch, volume, accentuation or stress on different words, and pronunciation.
Nonverbal cues in the voice are known to researchers as “vocalics.” These cues cover a wide range of categories, including volume (loud or quiet), pitch (high or low), inflection (variations in pitch), tone (reflecting emotion or mood), speed or rate, use of filler words (e.g. “like,” “ya know,” “um”).
Vocalics are incredibly important because they convey emotions and other similar information to listeners via their ears just as much as the actual words do through the listeners’ eyes.
People often use facial expressions to display emotions when they are uncomfortable with other types of nonverbal communication such as vocalics. As an example to the extreme side of this form of communication, just look at what any caricature artist creates with the stroke of a pen!
What are some examples of vocalics?
Let’s look at some of the significant parts of vocalics, including intonation, tone, stress, pronunciation, and pitch.
- Refers to the pitches that are used while speaking.
- Pitches rise and fall throughout sentences. This is called a falling tune because the pitches are moving in the opposite of how most people read or speak English (in which they get higher towards the end). If people hear this, they might think that you are sad or angry when you’re actually not. This is a very common mistake that people make when speaking to others, and it’s vital that you fix this if you wish for people to understand what you’re saying.
- Rising tune:
- Pitches rise gradually until they reach their highest point at the end of the sentence. This is called a rising tune, and it tells people that you are excited or enthusiastic about what you’re saying.
- Falling-rising tune:
- This kind of tune starts out flat (which means there isn’t much change in pitch) but then starts to rise and fall again. This makes people think that you are sad but also a little bit enthusiastic about what you’re saying.
- Rising-falling tune:
- A rising-falling tune starts out high and then falls in pitch towards the end of the sentence, making people think that you are enthusiastic and a little bit sad about what you’re saying.
- Flat tune:
- This is just like it sounds: there isn’t much of a change in pitch throughout the sentence, so people will think that you are unenthusiastic and unexcited about what you’re saying.
- Refers to the emotion conveyed when speaking.
- Another remarkably expressive channel of emotional expression. We can often “hear” a person’s emotion — not in what they say, but in how they say it. Research has shown that anger, surprise, happiness, fear, and affection tend to result in a higher-than-normal vocal pitch, while emotions of disgust, boredom, and extreme grief tend to lower the vocal pitch. Also, fear tends to markedly increase vocal speed, anger tends to slightly increase it, sadness tends to decrease it slightly, and disgust tends to markedly decrease our vocal speed. Our speech becomes faster when we’re excited but slower when we’re content.
When you speak, you should try to convey the emotions listed here. Remember what is said about vocalics being important because they tell people what you’re feeling? Sometimes it can be hard for non-native speakers, but this is your goal in order to be understood.
Stressing a certain word in a sentence changes how that word is perceived and what your intention is while saying it. The last syllable of each word is louder than the others and stands out more when said with emphasis. This makes people think that you are angry. In this case, the last two words are louder than the others and stand out more when said with emphasis. This makes people think that you are angry at someone or something in particular.
In this example, all of the syllables in each word are emphasized equally, so people will think that you’re just stating a fact and not actually angry. This makes people think that you are describing someone or something you are angry with, but not necessarily at them.
What are the 10 types of nonverbal communication?
- Paralanguage (also known as vocalics)
- Facial Expression
- Facial expressions involve the various movements of muscles around the eyes, nose, mouth and forehead. These cues can show happiness, sadness, anger or surprise.
- Environment/Artifacts (the physical environment people create can both reflect and shape interaction)
- Can include rings and tattoos but may also include brand names and logos. From clothes to cars, watches, briefcases, purses, and even eyeglasses, what we choose to surround ourselves with communicates something about our sense of self. They may project gender, role or position, class or status, personality, and group membership or affiliation.” (McLean 2014)
- Proxemics (things like gestures, movements, appearance, facial expression, vocal qualities) the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel it necessary to set between themselves and others. Proxemics is defined as the study of how individuals use space and is usually broken down into four types:
- Intimate Distance – 0 to 18 inches (0-46 cm)
- Personal Distance – 18 inches (46 cm) to 4 feet (1.2 m)
- Social Distance – 4 feet (1.2 m) to 12 feet (3.7 m)
- Public Distance – greater than 12 feet (3.7 m)
- Territoriality is a term associated with nonverbal communication that refers to how people use space (territory) to communicate ownership or occupancy of areas and possessions. The anthropological concept branches from the observations of animal ownership behaviors. (Temporary distance occurs when a person moves away from another individual. While this may cause a feeling of being ignored, it can show interest in what someone is saying or having fun with the other person. Temporary distance can also be used as a way to avoid engaging with someone that causes an uncomfortable situation)
- Posture involves the position of a person’s body and is usually an indication of mood. Certain postures such as standing with arms crossed, sitting up straight and leaning in are typically associated with interest. Leaning back, tilting one’s head downward or standing in a slouched position can be indicative of disinterest.
- Haptics (Includes all forms of touch)
- Haptics involves touching another person’s body through stroking, patting or squeezing. This type of nonverbal communication is often used to convey intimacy and affection towards another individual. It can also be used as a display of power, dominance or aggression by someone who wishes to intimidate the other person.
- Kinesics (the study of the way in which certain body movements and gestures serve as a form of nonverbal communication) Kinesics is the study of body movement and includes three different types:
- Emblems – gestures that stand for specific words or phrases, such as waving hello or goodbye.
- Illustrators – gestures that help demonstrate what someone is saying through hand motions.
- Affect displays – spontaneous movements that convey general feelings such as joy, sadness, anxiety or anger. People often rely on these displays to express emotions since they can be difficult to control.
- Includes time orientation, understanding and organization; use of and reaction to time pressures; our innate and learned awareness of time; wearing or not wearing a watch; arriving, starting, and ending late or on time. The way someone values and perceives time plays a considerable role on his or her communication process. The use of time can affect lifestyles, personal relationships, and work life. Across cultures, people usually have different time perceptions, and this can result in conflicts between individuals. Time perceptions include punctuality, interactions, and willingness to wait)
- Eye contact
- Eye contact is the act of looking directly into another person’s eyes. This form of nonverbal communication can be used to express interest in what another individual is saying, indicate attraction or convey respect.
Pronunciation is how English words are said and is not the same thing as vocalics because vocalics are sounds made by the voice that does not have a direct meaning themselves.
Vocalics are one of the most important parts of any kind of communication, whether it be a formal speech to an audience or an informal conversation between friends. They influence how people interact with others and play a role in what they remember about said interaction, so it’s necessary to use vocalics correctly so that you are understood.