When you hear certain people talk, there's something distinct about the way they speak that you insist is not their accent. It's not even the pronunciation (e.g. can't vs. cahn't). It's also not their natural voice or emotion.

This happens when you hear someone speak and the "accent" may reveal his or her sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, intelligence, popularity, subculture, sometimes disability, etc.

What do you call this kind of classification?

  • An affectation; a mannerism artificially assumed. – Elliott Frisch Feb 4 '14 at 20:06
  • I think you're kidding yourself if you imagine you can determine much about sexuality, socioeconomic status, intelligence, etc. from the way a person talks. The reality is you only get clues to that sort of thing by paying close attention to what they actually say. And even that probably won't help if the person is smarter than you and wishes to mislead you. – FumbleFingers Feb 5 '14 at 0:03
  • You don’t call this kind of classification anything, because it’s not a classification at all. It is just the combined effect of how that person talks (along with various other clues, and combined with societal preconceptions about various traits) that gives you an impression of something. The closest you can come to describing this is “the way they talk”. Despite your disclaimer, what you describe is also based on their accent and pronunciation. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 5 '14 at 0:23

Speaking as a voice consultant, I distinguish between 'voice quality' and 'voice use'.

Voice quality is the sound or timbre of a person's voice: raspy, breathy, nasal, etc - which is a product of how a person combines the 3 things needed to produce a vocal sound: breathing, the sound source and resonators/articulators.

Voice use is the amount of vocal variety they use. Voice use includes volume, speed, pitch, timing (pauses) and emotional tone. As you say, this is totally different to accent. or voice quality.

Idiolect includes individual uses of words and individually-favoured ways of pronouncing certain words, or preferences for particular patterns of speech.

Accent and dialect come under cultural or regional aspects of language which embrace all of the above.

If you're looking for markers of personality in voice, they'll more likely be found in the voice-based categories; social status will be more the other, accent-based ones. These kinds of associations should be treated with caution.


I think you need the word "idiolect". Please read this wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiolect


Perhaps one of the voice characteristics you are describing is timbre

the characteristic quality of sound that distinguishes one voice or musical instrument from another or one vowel sound from another: it is determined by the harmonics of the sound and is distinguished from the intensity and pitch

While certain aspects of voice may be statistically associated with some of the personality characteristics you enumerate, drawing conclusions based on such sound features is a pretty risky leap.

  • I thought about timbre, but it's more of how they use their timbre sort of like how you tell whether the sound of the trumpet is played by a professional vs. an amateur musician. (And yes, it's a risky leap.) – Mickael Caruso Feb 4 '14 at 20:25

In Britain it is known as the 'Received Pronunciation', which is far less a reflection of economic status than it once was. But it does correlate with other bourgeois values and indicators. It can be at considerable variance with wealth and economic importance. A lowly paid junior schoolteacher is just as likely to bear the marks of this socio-cultural elitism as the chairman of a large business conglomerate. There is no doubt from studies which have been carried out that speaking in RP is a considerable asset in job interviews and job promotion. RP is both ridiculed and respected, often by the same people. But like the Anglican Church, the BBC, the National Health Service, cricket, football and a cup of tea, it is quintessentially British, and you really have to be British to understand what it is all about.


I sometimes refer to someone's cadence. I consider it the primary difference between good and bad comedic imitations. (That's why a bad impersonator is so vile -- they're just doing the accent and it sounds racist to me.)

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