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Contemporary English G6 Field Research Assignment

Voice does it give away what we feel? The Vocal Signs of Emotion

In verbal communication voice is considered a tool - means for conveying a message. Often the voice itself can contain a certain message and even more often, the message can differ from the one being spoken. That brings up a few questions. Is voice controllable? Can the speaker intentionally adjust their voice for the purpose of supporting their words or even do it spontaneously? Is voice powered by sense or emotion? And most importantly, does the real message lie in the voice or in the word? This study was conducted with the aim of answering these questions. A questionnaire was distributed to 25 students and an MA in musical arts was interviewed. The study reveals that the voice is mainly a reflection of some emotional state. However some scholars agree that there is a way to assume command of the voice for personal benefits. Key words: voice, emotion, mood, sense


One of the main ideas behind this piece of work is the phenomenon of the human voice. It is frequently said how speech precisely is what differentiates man from animal which is nothing but truth, and a conclusion may be brought that the focal point of the speaking process is the sense. However, voice contains more than pure sense. It carries emotion. An emotion enriches the voice and assigns certain individual characteristics to it. Socrates considered the voice a reflection of the human soul and therefore asked the boys who wanted to enter his school to speak so that he could see who they were. (I Lhotka-Kalinski, 1975) The aims of this research include defining the relation between mood and voice, tone fluctuations and the extent to which an individual can voluntarily change their voice or recognize changes in another individuals voice. Previous research in voice as a means of truth manipulation carried out by Paul Ekman, a renowned contemporary psychologist, helped as an inspiration to predicate the probability of such a notion among everyday people living in our immediate surroundings. However, dealing with such a phenomenon requires further psychological investigation into the utilization of voice. Therefore, this research deals mainly with the nature of voice, its regular function and charge of emotion it may contain. LJiljana Jovanovic, MA in Music Art contributed to one aspect of this research by sharing her own experience with modeling the voice and by defining the relation between emotion and voice in music where it appears as most apparent.

Research Methods

Dealing with several main ideas implied the employment of different research methods. A questionnaire was used in order to gather data concerning the general opinion among students while, on the other hand, an interview was conducted in order to explore academic information about the usage of voice. The questionnaire consisted of 12 questions. The main idea of distributing the questionnaire was to attempt to reveal students personal attitude about the link between emotions and voice through quick, easy, secular questions. Over a period of seven days in April 2013, 25 students were asked to fill out the questionnaire mostly during their free time. This was specially intended so that the students could give their answers in a relaxed manner. The questionnaire was distributed to 20 students of English

language at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade over the internet and to 5 more students attending other faculties in person. Choosing students of linguistics as respondents meant enquiring a group of people already familiar with the idea of voice. However, none of the questions demanded any knowledge of linguistics and the idea of a voice as a phoneme was not a part of the interest sphere of this research in any way. Moreover the respondents who attended other faculties served as a sample for comparing the results obtained and especially for the purpose of monitoring whether or not such a point of view would arise. In order to adopt a more scientific approach it was necessary to hold an interview with Ljiljana Jovanovic, MA in Music Art and an opera singer. The questions put to Ljiljana dealt mainly with the voice content, voice preparations, expressing emotions with voice, emotional charge of the voice and extent to which emotion plays a role in the voice itself. During the interview a new idea spontaneously emerged posing another question which led to consulting Paul Ekmans book Telling Lies Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage (1985) chapter four- Detecting Deceit from Words, Voice, or Body.


According to the data obtained through the questionnaire an unambiguous message was received. The majority of respondents were aware of certain changes present in the voice in different social and emotional situations. 91 percent of the students said they had noticed the change. Awareness of the phenomena was a good foundation for deeper research into the matter. An unexpected result emerged showing that 42 percent of those who were aware of the change thought they had been responsible for the change while 58 percent thought the change was unintentional. 52 percent said they are capable of controlling their voice in stressful situations while 26 percent said they were not certain they had such ability. When it comes to recognizing voice alterations in other people the results were almost unanimous. 96 percent of the respondents considered themselves capable of determining someones mood over the telephone. Surprisingly, 74 percent of the respondents actually thought exclamations could be controlled. The percentage of respondent who were able to differentiate moods of pets or other animals stated that 61 percent thought they could while the remaining 39 percent thought the opposite. Regarding the using of different tone with same information was an easy task for the respondents. 100 percent of them agreed that the interpretation of a message depends on the manner of telling. When it comes to respondents personal opinion on the

order of the creation of speech and singing the results are curious. 65 percent of the students of linguistics thought the speech was the first to arise whereas the five students from different faculties thought the opposite. The questionnaire also contained two open-ended questions. When asked to explain they are in pain with voice only, the majority of students stated how they would use exclamations and onomatopoetic words as well as grunts, squealing, screaming. However, when asked to explain in words the majority emphasized the use of different intonation, speed of speech and emotional charge in their words. 79 percent of the respondents found voice as a more natural way to explain feeling pain. 21 percent however thought words would be the right choice. Respondents answered a rather philosophical question whether a message would somehow be deprived of its full meaning if conveyed in a different tone in an unexpected manner. 70 percent thought positive, while the remaining 30 percent had a different point of view. Ljiljana Jovanovic agreed with this statement but pinpointed on the other hand that in her opinion voice tells more than text. She considers voice a primary carrier of emotion and defines text as a means for making the message more accessible to the audience. In addition to this, she states the dose of preparation for a performance stating how the technical part has less influence to the final outcome of the performance than emotional part and brings about the question of sincerity in contrary to a perfect stage presentation. She claims that the sincerity is necessary and that it lies in the voice itself. Also, she mentions that different modes and keys in music naturally contain certain emotional charge.

Discussion and Analysis

If we suppose that The voice refers to everything involved in speech other than the words themselves. (Ekman, P, 1985, pg 92) then we must pay close attention to how that type of voice functions. In order to start this research it was necessary to affirm that certain variations of voice in different settings exist and that it is a common notion easily noticeable by majority of people. This statement was proved by 91 percent of the respondents. However, the question of the conscious and unconscious or intentional and unintentional aspect of voice variations indicates that further research into this matter is necessary because the difference in percents between those who thought it was intentional ant those who thought the opposite was slight. Intentional voice variations would imply the existence of a purpose for the matter. This purpose could contain untruthfulness in its core. Variations on another hand also happen

spontaneously. In a previous research conducted by Ekman 70 percent of those studied showed a raise in pitch when upset and a drop of pitch with sadness.(Ekman, P, 1985) Ekman does not entirely agree with this but admits that the best-documented vocal sign of emotion is the pitch itself. The pitch variation is what the respondents thought they were able to recognize and intentionally recreate. Their confidence somewhat reflected in their opinion that they could control exclamations. If we take into account Ekmans claim that clues and pauses make the most common vocal deception clues, our respondents claim fails to administer to the main idea. To round up the idea of sincerity in voice, Ljiljana Jovanovic claims that the focal point of singing is the sincerity and that the sincerity is the initial state of the voice. Any alteration added intentionally is a lie. She adds that the two preparations for singing (technical and emotional) are equally important but also emphasizes that a technically perfect performance given with very little emotion is all in all a bad performance. Therefore we might presume that emotion is an integral part of the human voice and that voice in itself must not be devoid of that emotion. For Ljiljana Jovanovic, voice devoid of emotion presents a groaning cymbal. She finds such voice also devoid of sense. She mentions dodecaphony in the 20th century and their tendency to deprive human voice of identity and the logic of emotion. Such a composition presents a piece of work intended to demonstrate the absence of logic, emotion and sense in the society with a performance where the singer randomly pronounces different vocals and consonants and the pianist accompanying him batters the piano cover. That would be voice devoid of emotion and sense- nothing but noise. One of such works is called The Flower by John Cage and is delivered in a similar manner. When asked to present the same emotion verbally and non-verbally, the respondents could not quite separate tone and pitch from words. This proves that there is a tight relation between emotion and sense in a message. The initial idea was to test that in an environment which does not allow someone to think of the way to present pain. Many of the answers did mostly include producing noise and unambiguous exclamations of pain. Answers like Id say aaaaaaaaa or Ouch, Ouuch! are the most common when it comes to describing pain with voice. What is interesting is that many answers regarding description of pain with words say Id say how it hurts in a high-pitched voice. or Id yell really loud how I need a doctor for the pain this is where we cannot differentiate voice from sense. They both have equally important roles. This contributes to the claim of the respondents that the same message can be misunderstood if said in a different manner. It is probable that many of them tried to yell or shout or raise their pitch so that their pain would be taken as more serious. This contributes to the idea that we all but can utilize the voice in order to present our message. What is yet

concerning is the ease with which many of the students admit that they are able to manipulate their voice. Somewhat consoling is the fact that they are also able to recognize that in others. If we exclude the intentional pitch change and go back to the emotion itself we have to bring up the question of recognizing voice alterations in animals and pets. The speech is what differentiates human from animals, yet there are obvious voice alterations in pets when they meow or bark or squeal or moan. A greater number of our respondents seemed to belong to those who do notice such changes rather than those who dont. One of the parameters might be the fact that some of them are pet owners and some are not. This parameter was not taken into account in the research. The focus is to stay placed on emotion. Animals do have emotions and one of the ways they present them is through making different sounds. These sounds are recognisable to nearly 70 percent of our respondents. This creates the impression that it is true. Provided it is true that those are emotions and that the presumption is based on common sense, another question must emerge. If common sense says those are emotions and common knowledge suggests that animals do not possess sense can we make a conclusion which claims that the main factor responsible for voice alteration is emotion? These emotions are primary emotions or basic instincts. With people it is slightly different because of the nature of the emotion. However, another, more thorough research is necessary in order to determine the nature of emotions, their origin and cause.


Voice functions as a means for conveying a certain message. It varies according to the type of message it is conveying. Reasons for that variation are more or less rooted in emotions aroused by the meaning of the message. Many young people are able to recognize such variations and some of them even to recreate them. The recreation can be done for different purposes but it is always performed with a purpose. The voice unaltered by any factor would in theory represent the voice as it really is sincerely. Any sort of intentional alteration would be a way of masking the voice and therefore could be interpreted as a form of deceit. However, in cases in which voice alteration happens spontaneously we have to take the alteration as a form of enforcement. The enforcement is rooted in emotion and its presence enriches the meaning of the message thus contributing to its credibility. Human voice is therefore, an unambiguous indicator of the speakers mood. Voice alteration is recognizable,

the question remains to which extent can the emotion be defined and that falls under the scope of another type of research.

Appendices Questionnaire
1) Does your voice change in certain situations? E.g. when you talk to your partner/boss/parents/friends or when you are telling some sort of news a) Yes b) No c) I am not sure 2) If your answer to the previous question is yes, in your opinion, does that happen intentionally or unintentionally? a) Intentionally b) Unintentionally 3) Can you make yourself talk placidly when you are anxious i.e. can you conceal your mood in your voice? a) Yes b) No 4) Can you guess someones mood over the telephone? a) Yes b) No 5) Do you think exclamations can be controlled like speech? a) Yes b) No 6) Are you able to tell the mood of your pet or some other animal by the sounds they produce? a) Yes b) No 7) Do you think that a single message can be misinterpreted if spoken in a different tone? a) Yes b) No 8) What came first, in your opinion, singing or speech? a) singing b) speech 9) How would you explain someone that you are experiencing pain by using voice? 10) How would you explain someone that you are experiencing pain by using words? 11) Which of the two methods do you find more natural? 12) Do you think that by explaining an emotion with words the emotion may be somewhat deprived of its full meaning? a) Yes b) No

Interview questions
1) When you sing, to which extent do you prepare technically and to which extent do you prepare emotionally? 2) Which of the two sorts of preparation is more important to you? 3)Can a musical piece be perfectly carried out if it is done with technical competence but very little emotion? 4) What do you find as more descriptive: voice or the lyrics? 5) What would happen if voice got devoid of emotion?

Literature Review

1) Lhotka-Kalinski, Ivo, Umjetnost pjevanja, kolska knjiga, Zagreb, 1975 2) Ekman, Paul, Telling Lies clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, W W - NORTON & COMPANY -New York-London (1985)