What Are Paralinguistic Features in Communication?

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Paralinguistic features in verbal communication are the vocal signals beyond the basic verbal message. Paralinguistic elements in a person’s speech convey meaning beyond the words and grammar used. Examples of paralinguistic features include pitch, rate, quality of voice and amplitude.

Forms of paralanguage can also include laughter or imitative speech. Prosody, which is the rhythm, pattern, stress and intonation of a person’s speech, is also a form of paralanguage.

People express meaning not just in what they say but in the way they say it. The paralinguistic features employed by a speaker provide nuanced meaning, communicate attitudes and convey emotion.

Paralinguistic features alert the listener as to how to interpret the message. Many of these paralinguistic features are culturally coded and inherent in verbal communication, often at a subconscious level. For example, a normal volume of speaking in the United States is perceived as aggressive in many other societies. Often, though, people consciously utilize paralanguage. For example, when someone is saying something sarcastically, he or she may adjust the intonations used.

Some linguists and people who study communications expand the scope of paralinguistic features to include non-vocal components as well, such as facial expressions, body positioning and movements, and hand gestures.