Pitch Change in Dog-Directed Speech

  • Christy C. Ringrose
Keywords: style shifting, intraspeaker variation, sociophonetics


Humans cannot help changing their speech in different situations. This kind of ‘intraspeaker variation’ happens every day when news-reporters turn from talking to their colleagues to talking to the camera, or when people suddenly start speaking in a strong dialect when talking with their family. People not only change the way they speak to different people, they also change the way they speak when not talking to people at all. This study examines one speaker and her dog, the goal being to find out why humans change the way they speak when talking to dogs. Dog-Directed Speech (DDS) is characterised by having a high fundamental frequency (pitch), as well as large amounts of questions and imperative utterances (Hirsh-Pasek and Treiman 1982, Burnham et al. 2002, Mitchell 2001). In order to take both of these features into account, we measured and compared the mean pitch of different speech acts which we expected to be common in DDS: disapproving utterances (“Stay”), approving utterances (“Good boy!”), and questions (“Who’s a good boy?”). We wanted to see whether the frequency of certain speech acts in DDS has anything to do with its high pitch and high pitch range. Although we did find variation in the pitch of different speech acts, we do not think that this explains the high pitch and pitch range of DDS. Rather, we conclude that DDS is motivated by social norms associated with talking to dogs. Our findings can give us insight into sociolinguistics in general because they show us that we respond to social norms that come with the speech situation, as well as just responding to the way our audience talks.


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How to Cite
Ringrose, C. “Pitch Change in Dog-Directed Speech”. Lifespans and Styles, Vol. 1, 1, pp. 28-35, doi:10.2218/ls.v1i0.2015.1181.