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1:12pm on Sunday, 16th October, 2005:

Tone of Voice


Whenever I ask my wife a yes/no question out of the blue ("do you want a cup of coffee?", "Shall we go and see a film this weekend?", "Did you like the book?", that kind of thing) she always says "err" before replying while she makes her mind up.

Here'd the odd thing, though: from the tone of her voice when she says "err", I can tell what she's going to answer even though she hasn't yet decided herself. The "err" that precedes a "yes" is of a higher pitch than the one that preceeds a "no".

It's always the same two pitches, too. Even more remarkably, these pitches match what our children used when they were younger and wanted her to come to them (that two-tone call you're pretty well guaranteed to know as it's used by children across the world to call their mothers, irrespective of culture — a descending minor third from the fifth to the third of the major scale).

Interestingly, I noticed my elder daughter doing the same "err" thing when I asked her a yes/no question a couple of months back. I made the mistake, however, of pointing it out to her. Now, she makes an effort to randomise her "err" tones. Should she ever have children, I hope there are no knock-on effects of this...

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).