I'm confirmed into the Anglican Communion, though I haven't been a regular attender for about 10 years. Now 67 years old, I'm still interested in my Anglican heritage and what my Anglican infant baptism means. I worry that the Church of England is dying. It seems that the people in our church are quite out-of-touch with the local community and unable to be authentic in their relationships with non-churchgoers. It seems that the culture of the people is at odds with the people of the community.

The question I have may seem trivial, but I think it's symptomatic of this out-of-touch problem. On a visit to check-out the new priest I was not really surprised to hear his voice had that 'sing-songy' quality that most vicars had in my childhood. But what really shocked me was that in casual conversation after the service he spoke in the same way. It was rather like a caricature, and at times it was hard not to laugh at the stereotype that was conjured-up.

I think it might help me to attend an Anglican church again if I could at least understand if it is a prejudice in myself when I hear this anachronistic vocal style. Knowing why might promote tolerance. My question is about the origin on the phenomenon. My guess is that it was taught and propagated after the Reformation, as RC priests seem to be immune. And why should it extend outside of church services into their everyday conversation?

I've come across quite a few embarrassing references to 'sing-songy' vicars on the Internet, so I guess that the behaviour is still fairly common in the C of E, e.g. https://sites.google.com/site/singsongyvicars/ Has any research been done into the phenomenon? or would it be too embarrassing to mention?

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    I'm a practicing Anglican with quite a number of friends who are Anglican priests or in training to be so. I think you have experienced a coincidence. The only place I have ever heard one of these voices was on 'All Gas and Gaiters' on Radio 4 Extra (I'm too young for the original run). Oh and I do know one priest who can put one on for amusement. As you are not embedded in parish life, my suggestion would be to try another church if it is a big problem. Anglicanism (certainly in England) is a pretty broad church, sometimes you have to look around for something that is the right fit for you. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 22:18
  • According to this guy, all the greatest speakers in the world talk like that...Speaking: Using a "sing-song" quality when you are speaking.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 22:31
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    So what is the precise question?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 22:52
  • @Flimzy the question is 'What is the origin of the Anglican priest "sing-song" voice?' Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 1:08
  • Unlike the OP I would've thought it originated with the chanted masses of the Catholic church, but I have no idea if that's correct.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


I submit that there may be a practical reason for the sing-songy voice, and I have tested the reason myself, with the help of a friend.

First, I read a passage from Scripture in a normal speaking voice, at normal volume, from the lectern in a large, "traditionally" furnished Episcopal church, and had my friend move back in the nave as I was speaking until my words could be heard, but no longer clearly understood. This was about 3/8 of the way from the lectern to the rear of the church. Then, I had my friend move still further back, to where my words could not be heard in their entirety. This was about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the back of the church.

Next, we repeated the experience with me chanting the same passage, from the same place, and at about the same volume. My friend had no trouble hearing clearly the words I chanted at the very back of the room.

Finally, we repeated the process in the "sing-songy" voice. In this case, the words were clearly understood about 2/3 of the way back the church, and heard all the way to the back.

I don't have enough training in psychoacoustics, or acoustics, for that matter, so I can't say exactly why chanting, and its distant cousin is more clearly heard than plain speech, but I've done the same test in different rooms, always with the same result--the closer to plain speech, the less the sound travels at a particular volume, the closer to chant, the better the sound travels.

These days, of course, with microphones, amplification systems, and loudspeakers, all one need to do to get normal voice to be easily heard anywhere in the room is to turn up the gain on the amplifier. But it was not always the case, and I suspect the sing-songy voice is a hold-over from pre technology changes, and that the perpetrators may not be be aware they are doing it, or if they are, may not put it on like vestments, which by the way, derive from regular garments of the Common Era, though that's a different queston altogether.

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    Any insight on why Anglicans use it and not Catholics? Or on whether that's even true? Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 4:55
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    Until Vatican II, the participation of the laity in the service was to be present for the Mass, it was not considered necessary that they understand what was going on at the altar (it was, after all in Latin, which few laypersons understood), so understanding what was said was not as important, as in the Anglican service, where understanding was sufficiently important since Elizabeth I's reigh, that the prayer book was written, and the service conducted, in English. As to my experiments, I can attest they were true, tho' in an empty space, at least emyptier than it would be on Sunday AM.
    – brasshat
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 5:04

I'm an Anglican vicar. While studying at theological college, every year there was an open event for former students. And every year, you could tell how long they'd been in the wild fairly accurately by whether they had "the voice."

Where does it come from? I can think of three plausible reasons.

First, lots of big churches have small congregations, who spread into every corner. So over-enunciating, slow speaking and injection of amplified variation of tone are the habit-forming answer.

Second, it's a professional hazard that every conversational utterance can be picked over, dissected and studied, leading to possible misunderstanding at best, or the taking of serious offence at worst. That sing-song style could be like the "ers" and "ums" that punctuate normal speech, giving the speaker thinking time.

Finally, and in my view most plausibly, vicars are often very isolated from their peers, and conscious that they are in many situations there to act as "the vicar" first and always, themselves second and sometimes. That voice is recognizable a mile off, as a vicar on duty. Watch any old British film with a vicar, or catch an episode of All Gas and Gaiters, and there it is. Just like the habit of turning buttoned collars back to front gave clergy a trademark look, so we have a trademark sound.

Do I have it yet? No, but there's time!

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