Whispering is an unvoiced mode of phonation in which the vocal folds (vocal cords) are abducted so that they do not vibrate; air passes between the arytenoid cartilages to create audible turbulence during speech.[1] Supralaryngeal articulation remains the same as in normal speech.

Entity (decimal)̣
Unicode (hex)U+0323

In normal speech, the vocal folds alternate between states of voice and voicelessness. In whispering, only the voicing segments change, so that the vocal folds alternate between whisper and voicelessness (though the acoustic difference between the two states is minimal).[2] Because of this, implementing speech recognition for whispered speech is more difficult, as the characteristic spectral range needed to detect syllables and words is not given through the total absence of tone.[3] More advanced techniques such as neural networks may be used, however, as is done by Amazon Alexa[4].

There is no symbol in the IPA for whispered phonation, since it is not used phonemically in any language. However, a sub-dot under phonemically voiced segments is sometimes seen in the literature, as [ʃʊ̣ḍ] for whispered should.

Social role

Whispering is generally used quietly, to limit the hearing of speech to listeners who are nearby; for example, to convey secret information without being overheard or to avoid disturbing others in a quiet place such as a library or place of worship. Loud whispering, known as a stage whisper, is generally used only for dramatic or emphatic purposes. Whispering also takes less effort to vocalize than a normal speech pattern. This is because less air needs to be used to vocalize the sound. However, while it takes less effort to produce a whisper, it tires out the vocal folds more quickly.


In 2010, it was discovered that whispering is one of the many triggers of ASMR,[5] especially when a female whispers. This phenomenon made news headlines after videos on YouTube of people speaking up close to the camera in a soft whisper, giving the viewer tingles.[6] People often listen to these videos to help them sleep and to relax.[7]

In animals

A number of species of animals have been observed to whisper, including the cotton-top tamarin[8] and the barbastelle bat.[9] The reasons for animal whispering vary, and are not fully understood, but whispering among the tamarins appears to serve a social purpose,[8] while the species of bats appears to whisper in order to evade detection by its particular prey, eared moths.[9]

See also


  1. Principles of Phonetics. John Laver, 1994, Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
  2. Language History: An Introduction. Andrew L. Sihler, 1999, John Benjamins, ISBN 1556199686.
  3. http://www.phon.ox.ac.uk/jcoleman/project_larynx_summary.pdf
  4. "Whisper to Alexa, and She'll Whisper Back". Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  5. Seal, Rebecca. "HOW ASMR Become a Sensation". Financial Times.
  6. "The weirdest YouTube craze yet". NewsComAu. 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  7. "GentleWhispering and ASMR: The voice that triggers euphoria and seven". The Independent. 2014-12-16. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  8. Simone M. Scully, "[Monkeys Can Whisper http://mag.audubon.org/articles/blog/monkeys-can-whisper]" Audubon (October 2, 2013).
  9. Christine Dell'Amore, ""Whispering" Bat Evolved to Trick Prey", National Geographic Magazine (September 1, 2010).
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