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Consider how you can hear the announcer of a sporting event in several languages, even those you do not know. Or even when it is turned down too low to understand in your own language. You still know this is a sporting event.

The same seems true for talk-radio, types of TV shows, sermons vs motivational speech, etc.

I think that The Sims' Simlish captures the differences rather well.

I just call it "pitter patter" (kind of like rain), but is there a more precise term?

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Welcome to EL&U. From the answers given thus far, there is clearly some confusion— are you asking about background murmuring, or about speech (you mention the announcer of a sporting event, not the crowd)? An announcer— at least a competent announcer— does not pitter patter. –  choster Apr 11 at 14:20
    
Speech, not background murmuring –  LameCoder Apr 11 at 18:00

12 Answers 12

up vote 27 down vote accepted

I think you are looking for cadence -

Cadence   noun

the way a person's voice changes by gently rising and falling while he or she is speaking

If you are referring to a particularly low sound, then perhaps murmur is a better fit -

Murmur   noun

a low indistinct but often continuous sound

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Cadence seems to best describe what I'm going after. –  LameCoder Apr 11 at 18:08
    
My first thought was "rhythm", but "cadence" is probably a better answer. +1 –  TecBrat Apr 13 at 8:44

I think the word you are looking for is prosody

In phonology: collectively; the patterns of stress and intonation in a language.

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+1 for a word I don't think I'll ever hear in conversation. –  Patrick M Apr 12 at 5:21

If you're asking for the term describing the characteristic of speech that allow you to discern its context without an understanding of the language itself, I would suggest:

Intonation

In linguistics, intonation is the variation of spoken pitch that is not used to distinguish words; instead it is used for a range of functions such as indicating the attitudes and emotions of the speaker.

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I think Elliot's "cadence" is part of the sports announcer's formula, though these other definitions of "cadence" seem more fitting for what the OP describes as "pitter, patter":

  1. Balanced, rhythmic flow, as of poetry or oratory.

  2. The measure or beat of movement, as in dancing or marching.

Additionally, the characteristic "staccato" speech pattern, a la Howard Cosell, which has been much imitated, is unmistakable. We watch World Soccer and foreign boxing matches at home and though I don't understand the language, the combination of staccato speech pattern and cadence make it clear that you're listening to a sporting event.

Staccato:

  1. with each sound or note sharply detached or separated from the others.
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Very helpful additions to cadence. –  LameCoder Apr 11 at 18:08

There is susurration. A background whispering noise.

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Consider "soundmark."

soundmark: sound which is unique to an area.

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hubbub - a loud, confused noise, as of many voices

Don't attach too much importance to loud in the definition (it's mainly confused). There are plenty of examples in Google Books of hubbub preceded by words like background, quiet, gentle, etc.

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I don't think this is what the OP is after; hubbub is the sound of a crowd or of background noise, not the particular pattern of different types of speech— sermonizers don't have a different hubbub from baseball commentators or kindergarten teachers, even though churches, fields, and classrooms might. –  choster Apr 11 at 13:52
    
@choster: Maybe. I should say that I don't accept OP's idea that you can identify the sound of "sporting event" hubbub as opposed to, say, the background chatter at some other crowd gathering. There might well be a distinctive pattern to the sound of the crowd at a baseball game, but that would probably be more similar to the audience at magician's show than the crowd at a long-distant running event, for example. –  FumbleFingers Apr 11 at 14:13

  • "gibberish":

    1. unintelligible or meaningless language
Similish is gibberish because it is a made-up blend of various sounds from world languages; your other examples are gibberish to you if you can't make out the individual words.

Similarly:

  • "babel", from the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel:

    1. a confusion of sounds or voices or
    2. a scene of noise or confusion
  • "babble" or "bibble-babble" (not etymologically related to "bable"):

    1. Inarticulate or meaningless talk or sounds.
    2. Idle or foolish talk; chatter.
    3. A continuous low, murmuring sound, as of flowing water.
  • "cacophony":

    1. discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds
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Logorrhea could be applied here, however the question is a bit too synesthesiac, too dimmitri borgmannish to be sure.

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I think you're looking for "patois" as defined by (2) below:

Full Definition of PATOIS 1 a : a dialect other than the standard or literary dialect b : uneducated or provincial speech 2 : the characteristic special language of an occupational or social group : jargon

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patois

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You can recognize a patois at low volume? –  Pierre Arlaud Apr 11 at 15:12
    
No....on reflection, I'd have to agree with Elliot above and go with "cadence". I don't think that "murmur" would apply, though, since neither patois or cadence would stand out enough to be distinguishable. –  Bob Stout Apr 11 at 15:16
    
Actually if you look at the definition (a low indistinct […] sound), it would seem to fit even though it's not distinguishable. –  Pierre Arlaud Apr 11 at 15:19
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Even with the actual words being indistinct, you could probably tell what you're listening to more by the distinct cadence of the speaker....even at a murmur. For example, describing a protest march: "The sharp, clipped murmur of the crowd made him realize how angry the protesters were." The cadence of being sharp and clipped are what determines the TYPE. Murmur more describes the inability to make out individual words. –  Bob Stout Apr 11 at 15:37

I think you mean something like chatter. There are thousands of words for this, but they usually involve some attitude towards the talk. Look up 'chatter' on thesaurus.com.

Loud or unwanted chatter: yakking, yammering

Many people chattering: buzz (of the crowd)

Annoying chatter: thundering, squawking, shrieking, ranting

Chattering for flattering: jabbering, jiving, song and dance

etc.

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dribbling / drippings

droppings (with perhaps an implication that the subject matter, tone, or author is not saying anything worthwhile, not credible, etc.)

splashes

speckles / sparks / stains / crumbs

some of these are reaching, but there are surely some physical actions like painting or elsewhere you can lowjack if you are feeling crafty

spatters / spatterings / sputterings / splatterings jabbering

drone / droning / whining / whistling / twinging / piercing / buzzing / scraping / screeching / grinding / blending (e.g. if the chatter is aggravating)

clanking / clangor / jingling / chipping / splintering

depends on the context what effect you are going for.

"precise" can mean "the word that best describes such a scientific phenomenon" (perhaps this is a research paper on audio algorithms) which previous posters covered well.

but for a fiction book, precision might mean "sets the mode" most effectively, with far more leniency on allegorical allusions and less emphasis on dictionary definitions.

are you looking for an objective answer, or an emotional one?

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Could you edit this into sentences, please? as it stands, it is difficult to understand what you are trying to say. –  Brian Hooper Apr 12 at 11:16

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