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Vocalics & Repartee

Vocalics & Repartee

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that different cultures may attribute very different meanings to vocal tone, volume, and turn-taking/interruption in communication.

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Video Transcription

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We've been talking about nonverbal communication, and how easy it is to send a signal that could be misinterpreted to someone from another culture. Well, I'm Marlene, and I'd like to continue this discussion with you our nonverbal communication today. Specifically I want to talk with you about vocalics and repartee.

Now vocalics refers to tone and volume, and even nonword communication. By nonword, I mean those-- we oftentimes times called them filler words here in the US that we use to fill space. Things like hum, mmm, ah-- those kinds of words. We're told not to use them in speech class.

So this is vocalics, and different cultures have different meanings about what is appropriate in the way we use sound. Now we're including this in nonverbal, even though it's verbal sound because we're focusing on the sound. The tone and the volume as opposed to meaning.

So volume, of course, is whether or not you're speaking in a very loud way! Or you're speaking softer, and tone can either be high-- you speak high, or you speak low. And so fast, slow, all of that is part of what we mean with vocal tone and volume.

Now repartee refers to turn taking. The etiquette, if you will, when you're having a conversation between two people, or even in a group. It could be this short turn taking fast back-and-forth style, or it could be one person speaks for-- and finishes long, perhaps declarative statement before the other person feels it's appropriate to answer. So there's clear turn taking.

Or not. In fact, in some cultures there may be an overlapping style where people will speak or one another, and that is considered appropriate. So how we take turns can be anything from waiting for someone to finish a statement before speaking to this rapid turn taking or overlapping style.

So what happens when you have people coming together from different cultures who interpret things differently? Well you could have a person conducting business from the United States with their cultural counterpart who comes from a culture who has different meaning for the way they we use our voice. With sound and the way-- and the etiquette for taking turns when you speak.

For example, if you are negotiating a contract or coming to some decision that you need to do in business. You may be speaking to someone in some countries where it's the overlapping style. And there are literally very few breaks and maybe zero silence, and people talk all at once. Now as someone from the United States, you may tend to see this as rude or disrespectful.

However your behavior here in the United States where we consider it appropriate to use silence. In fact, we use silence to emphasize things. To punctuate something that's important. Or we even use it just to gather our thoughts. And we consider speaking in a more contained way-- particularly in a negotiation or a business meeting-- is appropriate.

Not raising our voices. Not interrupting others. Typically if someone else starts to speak we'll stop and listen. So that style could be interpreted as a bit more colder, dismissive, and maybe you're not as engaged because you're not speaking in as volatile of style, if you will. Showing your emotion as much.

So there could be those cultural misunderstandings simply in the way we take turns in a conversation, how we use our voice in terms of volume or in tone. So high volume doesn't always mean anger. Sometimes that's how we might interpret it here the United States in some contexts. In some situations, there may be people who would interpret someone speaking loudly as being angry, upset, when indeed the person may just be engaged.

And so these differences do exist. It's important to be aware of them, and to know that we all react from a gut level emotionally and instantly to these nonverbal cues. How we use our voice, taking turns in a conversation, because it's so ingrained in us culturally what is appropriate and proper for how we-- the culture we grew up it.

So self-awareness is the first step in understanding how to communicate in a way that allows for cultural differences. So I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

Literally a form of quick wit; in communication style, a short turn- taking, "back and forth" style of conversation (as opposed to a long-turn taking style).


The pattern of conversation assumed to be proper in a culture, ranging from rapid exchange of statements and permissibility of interrupting another's speech, to long declarative statements by one speaker which must be completed before another is "allowed" to speak.


The communication style which uses tone of voice and non-word sounds as symbols.