Human emotionality is an ongoing stream that pervades every aspect of social life, talk, conversation, and discourse. Emotions are appraisals of situations; they have somatic bodily characteristics and their expressions can take nonverbal forms (facial, vocal, posture). Theoretical approaches to the emotional dimensions of discourse are found within three traditions of research: psychology of emotions, sociology of emotions, and psycho and socio-linguistics. Although Charles Darwin’s pioneering work in this field emphasized that different emotions are expressed in particular ways on a vocal level as well as a facial level, the vocal level has been rather ignored, both in classical psychological works (Tomkins 1963) and in the later development of this field. The same tendency has characterized the development of psycholinguistic research.
A number of laboratory studies of vocal expressions of emotions have, however, been undertaken in recent years; some are designed to measure acoustic characteristics with the aid of technological instruments; others are based on observers’ coding of vocal behaviors (Pittam 1994). These studies demonstrate a relationship between emotions and their vocal expressions; between, e.g., joy, anger, fear, and different patterns of pitch, loudness, and speed.
Conversational and discourse analytical studies of vocal behavior should also be mentioned. These studies focus on different displays of emotive communication, i.e., intentional expressions of feelings, rather than on emotional communication, i.e., the spontaneous, unplanned externalization of internal affects (Arndt & Janney 1991). Emotive communication is an important dimension in discourse. Most of our emotions, however, occur rapidly and below our immediate consciousness, and therefore outside the scope of our intentional planning.
The sociologists Thomas J. Scheff (1990) and Susanne Retzinger (1991) have developed a theory of emotions in discourse taking spontaneous vocal expressions into account. Their analysis has its starting point in a theory of interaction. Social interaction involves the building, repair, or damaging of social bonds. Self-feelings in relation to the other or others are, in other words, always involved in a process of interaction, while the emotional dimension of this process includes feelings of shame, on the one hand, and those of pride and confidence, on the other. Shame and pride are inner emotional states, which seem to be an almost continuous part of human existence.
Inspired by the psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis, Scheff and Retzinger distinguish between acknowledged and unacknowledged feelings of shame. The latter refer to episodes involving feelings of shame that, while remaining unacknowledged by either party in the interaction process, nevertheless affect the course of its development in systematic ways. Feelings of shame find expression in specific paralinguistic markers such as stammering, repetition, extended narrative pauses, speaking in a low tone of voice, rapid speech, etc. Inspired by the work of Lewis, as well as a number of other contributions to micro linguistics, Retzinger has assembled a list of the paralinguistic markers of shame and anger, whereas Bloch (1996) has identified paralinguistic markers of pride and joy. Markers of anger include staccato speech, loudness, and heavy stress on certain words; markers of pride include rapid, flowing speech, melodious speech, and mid-stream inhalation.
Scheff and Retzinger have developed a theory about the subtle dynamic of shame in discourse. Other sociologists have developed theories concerning the generation of solidarity among conversationalists through turn-taking processes and synchronization of various vocal features: pitch register and range, loudness, tempo, accent, and duration of syllables (Collins 2004).
Psycholinguistic and sociological studies of vocal expressions of emotions focus on variables such as: loudness; speed, as in rapid speech, stammering, stuttering, pauses; pitch level and range; changes in quality of voice, as in harsh voice vs soft voice; vocalizations that do not have the character of speech, e.g., sighing, coughing, laughing, in and exalations; and specific linguistic patterns such as filler words, incoherent speech, and mitigations. The available, if limited, literature points up relationships between these vocal markers and different affective states. However, these individual markers must not be confused with the emotion itself. Rather, they are to be understood as signs that, in particular contexts and given combinations, can indicate specific inner emotional states. Markers, therefore, are signs that can be ascribed meaning in the course of a contextual process of interpretation.
Many contemporary researchers show an increased awareness of emotions as active forces in social interaction, talk, and discourse. Micro-sociologists have developed theories concerning the dynamic and expression of shame, pride, and solidarity in discourse. Nevertheless, a comprehensive and systematic theory regarding the subtle structure of emotional meaning in discourse and the relationships between open and covert emotional meaning, including processes of encoding and decoding, is still not available. The growing research on emotions in interaction is a promising step toward a comprehensive theory; however, we also need to develop methodological tools to facilitate access to the different facets of emotions. The nonverbal level is an important emotional channel. This level includes not only facial and postural cues, but vocal cues as well.
- Arndt, H., & Janney, R. W. (1991). Verbal, prosodic, and kinesic emotive contrasts in speech. Journal of Pragmatics, 15, 521– 549.
- Bloch, C. (1996). Emotions and discourse. Text, 16, 323 – 341.
- Collins, R. (2004). Interaction ritual chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Darwin, C. (1890). The expression of the emotions in man and animal. London: John Murray.
- Lewis, H. B. (1971). Shame and guilt in neurosis. New York: International University Press.
- Pittam, J. (1994). Voice in social interaction: An interdisciplinary approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Pittam, J., & Scherer, K. R. (1993). Vocal expression and communications of emotions. In M. Lewis & J. Haviland (eds.), Handbook of emotions. New York: Guilford, pp. 185 –197.
- Retzinger, S. M. (1991). Violent emotions. London: Sage.
- Scheff, T. J. (1990). Microsociology: Discourse, emotion, and social structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Tomkins, S. S. (1963). Affect, imagery, consciousness, vol. 2. New York: Springer.