Sometimes when people use the name of the person they're talking to in a statement it's used to dismiss the discussion at hand. For example, "Because the sky is blue, Alice" or "If you have two two's, Bob, then you have four."

The person making the statement isn't explicitly dismissing the conversation, but said with the right tone, they imply dismissal. And said with another tone, they don't imply dismissal.

Then, is there a word for "when tone implies meaning"?

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    English isn't a tonal language as such, but things like [tempo {rate, speed}, voice intensity {loudness} and timbre {voice quality} ... pronunciation, emphasis pattern and intonation](chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/pulib.sk/elpub2/FF/Ferencik/04.pdf) can all affect meaning. Maybe an all-embracing term might be delivery. Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 19:09
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    @FumbleFingers I wouldn't choose delivery. Someone may be good or bad at delivering a speech, but it doesn't change the meaning of their words. — What about inflection?
    – ElmerCat
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 19:25
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    What about prosody? According to the wikipedia: "[prosody] contribute[s] to linguistic functions such as intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or by choice of vocabulary."
    – Yay
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 19:54
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    You start out talking about using the name of the second person and end up talking about tone, which leads me to believe that by tone you mean more than sound. You're right that unnecessarily addressing a person by name in the middle of a conversation can introduce a distancing formality. Is that what you mean?
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 20:54
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    In a written dialog you could always use something like "he intoned grimly" or "she intoned sassily" or "Bob said dismissively" -- a little crude, but it's a start.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 20:54

2 Answers 2


Consider intonation.

Definition: the ​sound ​changes ​produced by the ​rise and ​fall of the ​voice when ​speaking, ​especially when this has an ​effect on the ​meaning of what is said; The use of changing pitch to convey syntactic information.

Example: Even if your friend claims she's not upset by the death of her pet iguana, her intonation may tell a different story.


Although intonation may seem an obvious answer to the OP -

manner of utterance of the tones of the voice in speaking; modulation of the voice; accent (OED)

OED examples of its usage in this respect make clear that more often than not intonation actually refers, narrowly, to its musical sense -

The utterance or production (by the voice, or an instrument, etc.) of musical tones: in reference to manner or style, esp. to exactitude of pitch or relation to the key or harmony. (OED)

While it is true that the OP does specifically refer to 'tone', the examples given achieve their alternative meanings by virtue of variations not only in 'tone', but also 'rhythm' and 'cadence'. For these reasons it seems to me that a better word to answer the OP is prosody, which includes intonation, but also these other elements -

a suprasegmental phonological feature such as intonation and stress. Also: such features collectively; the patterns of stress and intonation in a language.(OED)

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