Paralinguistic Language Features

Paralinguistics has to do with the aspects of language that do not relate to the formal systems of language such as phonology, syntax, grammar etc. The features of paralinguistics fall into two categories. The categories are

  • Vocal paralinguistic features
  • Body paralinguistic features

Vocal Paralinguistic Features

Vocal paralinguistic features relate to how we say something. We can speak loudly are soft which are characteristics of volume. Our voices can be breathy, which is an approach some singers may use. The tone of our voice can be changed as well. A high tone can indicate nervousness or a question and even anger in some people. A low tone indicates doubt or authority in some people. All of these features convey intention and are influenced by circumstance

Body Paralinguistic Features

Paralinguistic Features of the body is how we communicate meaning through the use of our bodies. Facial expressions is one example. When we frown, smile, raise our eyebrows, etc. these all share different forms of information. Clenching the teeth and biting one’s lips also sends a message. The cultural context also colors what these behaviors mean as well.

Gestures are another form of bodily communications. Crossing out arms sends a message. Shrugging our shoulders in the US context indicates that the person does not know or does not care. Scratching our heads indicates confusion or lack of understanding.

Proximity is how close two people are when communicating. Normally, the closer two people are the more intimate. The further a part two people are indicates a formal setting and hierarchy. Many people keep a certain distance from their boss when communicating.

Posture is another feature. Slouching indicates laziness. When a person holds their head down it is often a sign of inferiority. If a person stands with hunch shoulder it sends a message as well.

An interesting thing about paralinguistic features is that people often echo each other. In other words, if someone speaks with a high pitch the person they are talking to may respond the same way. If someone folds their arms across their chest while speaking the person listening may do so as well. Normally, echoing is a sign that the other person is listening intently or it could be to mock the other person.


Paralinguistics is an aspect of communication that conveys information distinctly from other forms of language. The way the voice is used as well as the way people use their bodies while communicating sends powerful, yet subtle messages to people.

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