An ethological perspective on common cross-language utilization of F0 of voice

Phonetica. 1984;41(1):1-16. doi: 10.1159/000261706.


The author suggests that the following seemingly disparate phenomena have an underlying relationship: cross-language similarities in the intonation contours for statements versus questions, cross-cultural similarities in the vocal expression via intonation of attitude and affect, cross-language patterns in the use of tone, vowels, and consonants in "sound symbolic' vocabulary , cross-species use of F0 in threatening or non threatening vocalizations, cross-cultural and cross-species use of certain facial expressions (involving distinct mouth shape), and the existence of sexual dimorphism in the vocal anatomy of humans (and certain non humans). He argues that all arise due to an innately specified "frequency code', which associates high acoustic frequency with the primary meaning of "small vocalizer ' and thus such secondary meanings as "subordinate, submissive, non threatening, desirous of the receiver's goodwill , etc.' and associates with low acoustic frequency the primary meaning of "large vocalizer ' and such secondary meanings as "dominant, aggressive, threatening, etc.'

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Ethology
  • Facial Expression
  • Humans
  • Instinct*
  • Larynx / anatomy & histology
  • Phonetics
  • Primates
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Dominance
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Symbolism
  • Vocabulary
  • Vocalization, Animal
  • Voice*