Whether they prefer slick slang or fancy formality, most people get their points across in unique ways. After all, talking feels more rewarding when you can say something that adds informative or emotional value to the conversation. It makes perfect sense that individuals pick the speech patterns that seem the most comfortable and efficient.
A speech pattern is a characteristic mode of verbal expression. These mannerisms are noteworthy because each person has their own version. Knowing how to describe speech patterns can dramatically improve your ability to create media content.
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This post was updated in April 2021
What Defines a Speech Pattern?
Every speaker has a unique speech pattern. That means the same quantifiers don’t fit all situations.
You might meet someone who talked at a rapid speed and uses lots of inflections. Although it would be natural to describe them as having a dynamic speech pattern, the same qualifiers might not help you categorize another person’s speech.
Next, imagine that you met someone whose only vocal quirk was that they used rare vocabulary. Discussing their speaking rate or the way they emphasize their words might not reveal much.
Speech pattern descriptions should ultimately focus on the most iconic elements. It’s particularly important to pay attention to these aspects when creating media. Want to tell your voice actors, scriptwriters, or other creative partners what you want? You’re best off sticking to the elements that define the character.
What Are Some Ways to Describe Speech Patterns?
A few characteristics seem to crop up quite often when people discuss speech patterns. Some highlights you might want to touch on are
- Speech rate,
- Brevity, and
- Emotive mood.
This term describes how someone places stress on the vocal elements in their speech. Some common modes of inflection include:
- Uptalk, also known as the high-rising terminal, Australian Question Intonation, or “valley girl” speech. This pattern involves people adding a rising sound to the end of their statements as if they were asking questions. Some people find it annoying or perceive its users as being less knowledgeable, but others feel it simply characterizes polite, deferent speakers. Such sentiments may decrease as the pattern becomes more prevalent in general use.
- Intonation contours are distinctive tones used with individual expressions. According to the University of Manitoba, these elements describe how a speaker’s pitch rises and falls. The same phrase, such as “you really like that boyfriend of yours,” might take on two different contours depending on whether it was capped off with a period or a question mark.
- Rhythm, as in music, reveals how people alternate between weak and robust stresses to give their speech a sense of motion. A speaker without much vocal rhythm might be described as “flat” or “monotone.” Speech pattern rhythm includes not only stress but also timing and syllable count, so an easy way to conceptualize it is as the flow of communication.
- Prosody is pitch, volume, rhythm, and tempo — the non-phonetic elements of speech — rolled into one. It also conveys how people use these elements to communicate meaning and structure their ideas. A good way to understand this concept is to realize that it has a similar purpose in written literature, where it describes particulars like verse structure and poetic meter. Like intonation countors, prosody helps speakers communicate meaning that goes beyond what you’d get from looking up their words in a dictionary.
The speed at which someone chats is a critical element of their communication. It plays a significant role in scripting audio ads, narrations, and voiceovers. With limited time to get the point across, you’ll usually need to hit a specific words-per-minute, or WPM, rate.
Variable Speech Rates
Speech rates aren’t set in stone. Even the fastest talkers instinctively seem to recognize the value of slowing down occasionally. For instance, you could ease your pace to explain a difficult concept or make yourself heard over a noisy background.
Some speech rate issues are less voluntary than others. Someone who speaks haltingly, or in abrupt starts and stops, might just be puzzled. Or they might be insecure or nervous. When writing a script, you might include voice stage directions in parenthesis, such as “haltingly” or “nervously” to make use of these familiar communication tropes.
Not everyone pronounces or groups their words in the same fashion. While this is part of what makes listening to people fun, it can also result in difficulties understanding others.
One 2003 study showed that non-native speakers tended to be a bit harder to understand, but this wasn’t always the case. Clarity isn’t just a matter of pronunciation. The same investigation showed that, although listening to a non-native speaker’s accent could help listeners predict the clarity of their speech, the results weren’t consistent. Many people with heavy accents speak second languages perfectly clearly and understandably — especially with practice.
Communicating With Clarity
Rhythm can be a considerable aid to clarity. Some experts believe it plays a vital role in helping us tell where different words and thoughts begin and end. Reading your scripts and sentences aloud is an excellent way to understand how their rhythm might impact their clarity.
Clarity also depends on elements like background noise. Although this isn’t strictly a speech-pattern factor, it’s critically important for creating media. Since things like commercials usually include sound effects and background music, you need to mix and master them correctly. Investing in facilities such as whisper rooms can also help you do more with a talented voice actor’s speech patterns.
As with speaking rates, talkers habitually modulate this speech pattern element. People who want to be understood commonly articulate, or clearly pronounce, the different sounds in words using an exaggerated manner. Although this can be rather annoying when someone does it to you in person, it’s a valuable technique for tasks like recording voiceovers.
Brevity represents a speaker’s ability to express a lot in the space of a few words. Someone who speaks with notable brevity might also be described as “terse” or “concise.”
With so many different ways to say the same thing, most languages make it easy to pick a concise option. For instance, you might choose a word with fewer syllables instead of trying to win Wheel of Fortune with every sentence. Or, you might generally practice economy of language by breaking your ideas down into quick blurbs.
Making the Most of Fewer Syllables
The same ideas apply to speech, and you can leverage them to great effect in media like commercials. A narrator that used fewer words might make your content more listenable since the audience could get the idea faster.
Imagine you wanted to create a commercial for a company that sold baby monitors. Your crucial selling point might be that parents could rest more comfortably when they knew what was happening with their toddlers. You could have a frazzled dad figure who “stumbled over their words” contrasted with a character that depicted one of your product’s users. For instance, they might meet a cool mom who spoke in a calm, collected voice and used concise language. This kind of strategy would play off of listeners’ automatic mental associations to evoke the desired mood.
Although they’re not the same things, someone’s mood can be a part of their speech pattern. This factor commonly influences the other descriptors we’ve covered.
Sometimes, people who speak with extreme brevity get labeled as “curt” or “gruff.” These words additionally communicate a rude or dismissive element on top of describing efficient talkers. Someone who doesn’t speak clearly might be labeled as “garbled,” meaning that they’re not just unintelligible; they may also distort the truth, omit facts, or simply get things wrong.
Specifiers That Carry Weight
Should you use a loaded descriptor to discuss a desired character or voiceover speech pattern? Doing so can help voice actors bring out the big guns and produce memorable output. On the other hand, it might change the overall dramatic tone of your creative work. Here are some helpful project organization rules for keeping things clear:
- Take a top-down approach to mood. Decide on — and commit to writing — the tone you want your whole piece to take before breaking it down by character and scene. By considering the big picture first, you can increase your odds of staying on track.
- Be realistic. Most people are more than their speech patterns, and creating nuanced characters tends to be more productive. Moods also change, so each character’s tone should reflect the situation at hand.
- Don’t be insulting. Loaded language appeals to people’s emotions to influence their reactions. While you want to push voice actors and other creatives in a particular direction, using highly negative speech pattern descriptors can backfire. Would you want someone working on your project after your specification left a permanent sour taste in their mouth?
Also, remember that loaded language might constrain voice actors. Voice actors who feel locked into one mood often find it hard to communicate all of the ideas you’re asking for. Err on the side of simplicity.
Honesty, Humor, Sarcasm, and More
Many people use irony, sarcasm, jokes, and other qualities to communicate additional moods that give their words more impact. These elements can be hard to pick up on in writing, but speech makes it easier to drive the point home.
Although anyone can use such linguistic tools, they dominate some speech patterns. They’re so common, however, that they might prove insufficient as descriptors. For instance, you could ask the same voice actor to portray a sarcastic character and get a whole range of different results.
Remember prosody and intonation contours from earlier? They come into play again here, and everyone interprets them differently. It pays to be specific — unless you don’t mind letting your creatives flex their creative muscles.
How Do Speech Patterns Translate From Writing Into Sound?
As we’ve been hinting at, speech patterns are subject to interpretation. This reality makes it imperative to write clear scripts and apply the brevity idea to your descriptions. Since voiceovers and other content begin with your written specs, avoiding confusion helps them shine more clearly.
One surprise that many first-time cross-media creators encounter is that things don’t go the way they intended. In fields like drawing or music, this can seem pretty devastating, but audio ads and voiceovers grant you more leeway. It’s easy to ask someone to try a take differently, so don’t get discouraged by misfires.
Choosing a Speech Pattern That Suits Your Content
Voiceovers benefit from creative direction that identifies target speech patterns without overly restricting voice actors. Describing a speech pattern can be tricky since there are so many different ways to speak. Taking the time to plan this element leads to more satisfactory creative results.
If you’re not sure which speech pattern might fit the bill, be open to creative input. Instead of writing a whole novel trying to describe a job’s specs, give your voice over artists freedom to contribute. Doing so can result in a more realistic, natural-sounding final product, particularly when you pick a voiceover studio with the experience to help.
Need help with one of your voiceover projects? Submit a project with us and we’ll be happy to deliver excellent results!