Sotto voce (/ /; Italian: [ˈsotto ˈvoːtʃe], literally "under voice") means intentionally lowering the volume of one's voice for emphasis. The speaker gives the impression of uttering involuntarily a truth which may surprise, shock, or offend. Galileo Galilei's (probably apocryphal) utterance "Eppur si muove" ("Nonetheless, [the Earth] does move"), spoken after recanting his heliocentric theory, is an example of sotto voce utterance.
In law, "sotto voce" on a transcript indicates a conversation heard below the hearing of the court reporter.
Literature, drama, and rhetoric
In literature, drama, and rhetoric, sotto voce is used to denote emphasis attained by lowering one's voice rather than raising it, similar to the effect provided by an aside. For example, in Chapter 4 of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë uses the term sotto voce to describe Mrs. Reed's manner of speaking after arguing with Jane:
- 'I am not your dear; I cannot lie down. Send me to school soon, Mrs. Reed, for I hate to live here.'
- 'I will indeed send her to school soon,' murmured Mrs. Reed, sotto voce; and gathering up her work, she abruptly quitted the apartment.
— Jane Eyre
In music, sotto voce denotes a dramatic lowering of the vocal or instrumental volume — not necessarily pianissimo, but a definitely hushed tonal quality. An example of sotto voce occurs in the Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor, in which the singers lower their volume for emphasis. A tonal example of "sotto voce" can be found at the beginning of Movement III of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, in which the strings play with a hushed quality before later playing with renewed strength.
- Brontë, Charlotte (2008). Jane Eyre (3rd ed.). London: Penguin Classics. p. 45.