- 1: to speak softly with little or no vibration of the vocal cords especially to avoid being overheard
Whispering (Latin: vox parva) is an unvoiced mode of phonation in which the vocal cords do not vibrate normally but are instead adducted sufficiently to create audible turbulence (a 'hissing' quality) as the speaker exhales (or occasionally inhales) during speech. This is a somewhat greater adduction than that found in breathy voice. Articulation remains the same as in normal speech.
In normal speech, the vocal cords alternate between states of voice and voicelessness. In whispering, only the voicing changes, so that the vocal cords alternate between whisper and voicelessness (though the acoustic difference between the two states is minimal).
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 of whispering
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 cords more quickly. For this reason the whispering voice should not be used during vocal rest prescribed when one has fully or partially lost one's voice.