What is Paralanguage?

The term ‘paralanguage’ is a combination of two words ‘para’ and ‘language’ which means similar to language. So, it is not actually a language but it is like a language. This is because it is closest to verbal communication.

Hence, paralanguage could be anything that carries out the task of communication just like a language without the use of words. It comprises a broad spectrum of vocal characteristics that helps to express and also reflect the speaker’s mind. It transmits more meaning than the actual words.

Paralanguage is a part of paralinguistics which is the study of how a speaker verbalizes.

Paralinguistic expressions accompany speech but they are not actual words. In fact, prolonged gaps, pauses and silence is also paralanguage.

Paralanguage is all about how the message is conveyed. It is based on the voice, pause, intonation, stress, gestures, and volume. This means that with the pitch, volume variation, stress on words, and tone, one can easily gauge the speaker’s confidence, fear, enthusiasm, and mental state.

Table of Contents

  1. Parts
  2. Types
  3. Advantages
  4. Disadvantages
  5. Wrap Up

Parts of Paralanguage


  • Voice Quality: It connotes the factors like pitch, range, pace, tempo, resonance, speaking rate and rhythm.
  • Voice Characteristics: It encompasses features such as crying, yelling, groaning, yawning, whining, clearing throat, whispering and laughing.
  • Vocal Qualifiers: These are transient variations in the volume which can range from overloud to oversoft.
  • Vocal Segregates: This includes fillers or non-fluencies such as ‘ah’, ‘er’, ‘um’, and other intruding pauses. It also covers silent pauses.

Types of Paralanguage



It is the basic signal that we as a receiver get and as a speaker use. Being a good listener we can judge another person’s intention through voice only. Voices can be sweet, soft, pleasant, relaxed, loud, indistinct, nasty, etc. Apart from the intention, voice also speaks a lot about the background, education, sex, upbringing and mood of a person.


The change in sound generated by the rise and fall in the voice of the speaker and the shift in stress is what we call intonation.


The degree of highness and lowness of the voice is called pitch. It signals the frame of mind of the speaker. Most people found an unchanging pitch as boring and gloomy, which also decreases the listener’s attention. Generally, the pitch of a boss has a high pitch than an employee, which reflects their position. Further, high pitched voice discloses excitement but a low pitched voice represents seriousness.


People belonging to different cultures pronounce words differently. Hence, their variations in the pronunciation communicate different meanings to different people.


The unique way of pronouncing a language, that reflects the belongingness of the speaker to a particular country or region, social class or level of education.


Pauses are the temporary stop in speech, which delivers a message to make it more effective. It emphasizes a message. However, it needs to be used wisely and carefully, because a pause at the wrong place may cause a lot of confusion.

Volume variation

We generally adjust our volume on the basis of the number of people we are talking to. That means if we are speaking in public, our volume is high, i.e. the larger the audience the louder would be our voice and vice versa. It is important too because only then the people will hear you.

Speaking speed

Fluency is not the same as speaking speed. The speaking speed differs in different scenarios and also at the time of conveying different parts of a single message. We generally deliver easy parts at a brisk pace, because they are understood easily. As against, hard information is conveyed slowly, so that the receiver can get the message clearly.

Mixed signals

When the tone, pitch, voice, and volume do not match the speaker’s words, it is called mixed signals. In this way is not able to get the nonverbal cues accurately. For example: Congratulating someone in a cold tone, often sends a wrong message to the speaker.

Word stress

If we put proper stress on the words that we use during the process of communication of message, our message would be delivered more effectively than we think. It is also done by the repetition of the words and sentences that we think are important.


  • Paralaguange is an integral part of oral communication, as it is directly associated with the language itself.
  • The position and situation of the speaker are reflected through the paralanguage to a great degree, be it in a formal or informal setting.
  • Paralanguage is capable of reflecting the personality, background, and education of the speaker as well.
  • It indicates the mental state and mood of the speaker. An effective listener can easily judge the right intentions and non-verbal cues out of paralanguage.


  • Though it is similar to language and not an actual language, the guessing might be proven wrong sometimes. This is because not all the signals are clear and accurate.
  • It encompasses drawing conclusions as per the additional attributes. So, these conclusions need not be correct all the time. Hence, it can be confusing or at times misleading.
  • Speakers may belong to different cultures, backgrounds, social classes, and situations, and the conclusions drawn from it may not convey the exact message.

Wrap Up

All in all, paralanguage is a technical term for voice cues and has the capability to change the meaning of the message. The receiver gets the message not just by the content itself but also by the way in which the speaker conveys that message. In fact, it has a powerful impact on the mind of the receiver.

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