Loudness trumps pitch in politeness judgments: evidence from Korean

Kaori Idemaru, Bodo Winter, Lucien Brown, Grace Eunhae Oh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Social meaning is not only conveyed through words, but also through how words are produced. This paper investigates the relative importance of loudness and pitch in determining the perception of a politeness-related judgment in Korean: the distinction between deferential and intimate stances. It has been proposed that high pitch is universally associated with polite or deferential social meanings. In contrast to this, Experiment 1 examined the perceptual effect of pitch and found no effect. Experiment 2 tested the effect of loudness, and found that listeners associate quieter speech with deference. Finally, Experiment 3 investigated the simultaneous effects of loudness and pitch, and found again that loudness had a consistent effect, whereas pitch only had a weak effect. Meta-analyses across the three experiments suggest that whereas loudness is interpreted uniformly across listeners, pitch has more variegated social meanings, with some listeners associating high pitch with deferential stance, and others associating low pitch with deferential speech. These findings shed light on how different acoustic properties contribute to the indexing of social stances, and they suggest that the role of pitch in conveying social stances has been overstated in past research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123–148
Number of pages26
JournalLanguage and Speech
Issue number1
Early online date8 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • politeness
  • phonetics
  • speech
  • loudness
  • pitch
  • prosody
  • intonation


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