Acoustic differences between humorous and sincere communicative intentions


Elena Hoicka, Psychology, School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK (e-mail:


Previous studies indicate that the acoustic features of speech discriminate between positive and negative communicative intentions, such as approval and prohibition. Two studies investigated whether acoustic features of speech can discriminate between two positive communicative intentions: humour and sweet-sincerity, where sweet-sincerity involved being sincere in a positive, warm-hearted way. In Study 1, 22 mothers read a book containing humorous, sweet-sincere, and neutral-sincere images to their 19- to 24-month-olds. In Study 2, 41 mothers read a book containing humorous or sweet-sincere sentences and images to their 18- to 24-month-olds. Mothers used a higher mean F0 to communicate visual humour as compared to visual sincerity. Mothers used greater F0 mean, range, and standard deviation; greater intensity mean, range, and standard deviation; and a slower speech rate to communicate verbal humour as compared to verbal sweet-sincerity. Mothers used a rising linear contour to communicate verbal humour, but used no specific contour to express verbal sweet-sincerity. We conclude that speakers provide acoustic cues enabling listeners to distinguish between positive communicative intentions.