Intonation is the melody of your voice, the tune you use to communicate. Try saying the words of the lullaby Rock-a-Bye Baby in a grumpy voice. (Would you still use those words to lull a child to sleep?!)
It’s very important that we use appropriate intonation when we talk. But if you have damage to your hearing, it’s possible that you don’t catch the intended meaning because your ability to hear the subtleties in the melody of speech may be impaired. This can lead to misunderstandings, which can be just as bad as hearing the wrong words.
Perception of intonation is affected by both the speaker’s and the listener’s native language. If these are not the same, the potential for misunderstanding increases. All spoken languages use pitch to convey meaning. However, people from different regions with the same language may use intonation differently. For example, there are differences in the way British, Australian, and Americans use intonation with the English language. My attempts with sarcasm were misinterpreted when I emigrated from England to Australia. I’m lucky that my work colleagues were so accommodating!
We hear ourselves via air conductivity – where the sound waves travel straight from our mouths to our ears – and via bone conductivity – where our vocal cords vibrate through our skull before eventually reaching our inner ears. Other people only hear us with air conductivity. Bone is better at conducting lower frequencies, so most of us think our voice is richer and deeper than it is. Hearing loss can affect your ability to use intonation. This is because you are not hearing yourself fully.
If you find yourself struggling to use or comprehend intonation, I suggest that hearing aids with good quality sound processing could help.