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Thomas O. Meservy and Judee K. Burgoon

Subject Linguistics
Communication Studies » Interpersonal Communication

Key-Topics language

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Paralanguage refers to the nonverbal elements of speech – such as vocal pitch, intonation, and speaking tempo – that can be used to communicate attitudes, convey emotion, or modify meaning. In simple terms, paralanguage can be thought of as how something is said rather than what is said. The study of paralanguage is known as “paralinguistics.” Early work on paralanguage emerged in the 1950s with the pioneering research of George Trager and Henry Lee Smith ( Hall & Trager 1953 ; Trager 1958 ), who noted that kinesics (body movements) and vocalics (voice quality and other aspects of the voice) are part of the language system. Building on their work, other researchers focused on vocal pauses (hems, ahs, coughs), speaking rate, volume, and quality ( Pittenger et al. 1960 ). Since that time, paralanguage has been studied and applied to numerous domains including psychiatry, child development, courtship (→  Interpersonal Attraction ), and deception (→  Deceptive Message Production ). The idea that how one says something may impact the meaning of what is said is a familiar concept. Most often, humans use paralanguage purposefully, though perhaps subconsciously, as many of these patterns have been learned since infancy. For example, when something is said sarcastically, the voice may take on a negative tone to accompany a positive word or phrase, or particular intonations may modify ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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