Insincerity and the spoken voice.
February 2, 2014 2:41 AM   Subscribe

People often put on a 'funny voice' or accent for emphasis or just in general conversation. This is possibly a reaction to their company but possibly some kind of psychological obfuscation? Does askmetafilter know of any any research into the way people put on funny voices for emphasis when they say things? Accents and intonations etc. Google has not been kind to finding ideas or starting points.
posted by debord to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this is the kind of thing you're looking for, but The prosody of repetition, which talks about how we modify what we say when we quote or mimic someone, might be a starting point? (Warning: paywall, but this book might be available in your local university library.)
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 3:08 AM on February 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for taking the time to reply. I will get the book and have a look.
posted by debord at 6:25 AM on February 2, 2014

There's "vocal fry," a creaky affect which may be "a product of young women endeavoring to infuse their speech with gravitas by means of reaching for the male register." Wikipedia's article is awfully dry but might lead you to similar things through the "see also"s; there's also this Slate podcast on fry.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:40 AM on February 2, 2014

We need more information. What kind of situation? When what's being said, exactly? How about an example. Are you sure some well-known public figure or movie star isn't being imitated? I'm guessing you don't mean the way some raise the pitch of their voice, when speaking to dogs and infants.
posted by Rash at 1:46 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not sure what you mean by psychological obfuscation. Can you expand on that?

If I'm reading you right, then what a certain friend of mine does may come under that heading:

She has three horses, and refers to them by baby names. She also "speaks" for those horses in three different voices ranging from squeaky to gruff. "Mr. Fluffy wants a carrot." On occasion, when there's something she wants or doesn't want--for instance she doesn't like riding cross country and prefers to stay on trails--she will say in the high-pitched voice: "Fuzzy Boy says he doesn't want to go that way." Least you think she may be a ditz, she has a PhD and is one of the most highly respected people in her field in the US. A tad passive aggressive and manipulative at times, but we all have our faults.

There's so many things that go on within a speech act. You may choose the same specific subject, but the conversation you have about that with your best friend in a bar will not be the same conversation you have with the pastor at church or your boss, or even your mom. The tone of voice may change, the emphasis might be on different words, you may or may not use sarcasm or a baby voice. Perhaps that may come under psychological obfuscation as you are presenting things in a different light, and even may be defending your ego.

The utterance, "There. There. There." might be said differently depending on what is meant:

Impatiently pointing out something someone is overlooking.
Quietly and sincerely comforting a crying child.
Loudly mocking a teammate that missed a swing at a baseball.

I suppose the act of comforting a child might fall under the heading of obfuscation if you aren't sincerely concerned about the child, but rather want to convince a prospective girlfriend what a great guy you are.

I don't think funny voices necessarily have to be obfuscation--Sometimes in the morning when I'm pouring the favorite beverage, I'll say, "COFFEEEEEE!" in the high and squeaky voice used by the revved-up squirrel in the movie, Hoodwinked, just because he's my favorite character, and I think it's funny. So referencing a movie for the LOLs.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:27 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

And where the heck is that languagehat dude, anyway?
posted by BlueHorse at 2:28 PM on February 2, 2014

I think the term you want is 'inflection.'

This NYT article has lots of info about it and might be a good starting point to find the researchers in that field.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:33 PM on February 2, 2014

This paper of Deborah Tannen's may interest you.

Based on examples drawn from tape recordings of two middle-class, dual-career White couples with children who audiotaped their own interactions for a week, I examined how family members mediate interpersonal interaction by speaking as, to, or about pet dogs who are present in the interaction. Analysis demonstrates that dogs become resources by which speakers effect a frame shift to a humorous key, buffer criticism, deliver praise, teach values to a child, resolve potential conflict with a spouse, and create a family identity that includes the dogs as family members. In this analysis, I contribute to an understanding of framing in interaction, including the relevance of Bakhtin's (1981) notion of polyvocality for conversational discourse and demonstrate how family members use pets as resources to mediate their interactions while constituting and reinforcing their identity as a family.
posted by threeants at 3:53 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all these replies. I don't ave a specific context in mind but this is all great.
posted by debord at 12:59 AM on February 3, 2014

I would love to know more about this, specifically on a psychological level. It does seem to be a thing. A therapist once asked me if my mother used different speaking voices. I said yes and she said, "Heh, thought so." Much later I remembered this and tried unsuccessfully to Google for discussions. Another family member of mine uses a weird squeaky voice in some situations. In his case, as with my mother, it seems pretty clear it's to do with being uncomfortable and maybe saying things they don't want to own completely.
posted by BibiRose at 8:35 AM on February 3, 2014

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