Let’s talk about voice…
How often do you really consider your voice? Most of us spend all day using it without a second thought, but did you know that talking is a uniquely human ability? Although our monkey cousins share the same apparatuses (lungs, throat, voice box, tongue and lips) we are the only ones that have evolved brains to process and produce language and syntax, to form hundreds of thousands of words.
“Speech, by the way, is the most complex motor activity that any person acquires — except [for] maybe violinists or acrobats. It takes about 10 years for children to get to the adult levels,” says Dr. Philip Lieberman, a professor of cognitive and linguistic science at Brown University who has studied the evolution of speech for more than five decades.
So, let’s consider YOUR voice.
Your voice is like a fingerprint. It is uniquely yours.
No one on this earth sounds exactly like you. Pick up the phone and people can recognise you without seeing you. Your voice carries your DNA. It holds clues to your life and past. And, whether right or wrong, from the moment we hear someone talk we start to make judgements about them. “Am I threatened by them? Is their voice pleasant to listen to? Are they worth my time?” We start to form opinions on background, race, education, and social standing based on what we hear.
Your voice is a major part of who you are, and to make comments about your voice can sometimes feel like a personal attack. But our voices don’t define us. Our voices are flexible, changeable and malleable. After all, think of all the changes and different voices you have already had throughout your life.
Our unique voice starts as a young child learning to speak.
We begin by listening to our those around us; Our parents, siblings and carers. We start playing with sounds, trying to mimic what we hear, exploring our instrument and having fun as we discover new ways to use our voices. As we get older, we come under the influence of peers, changing our voices to help us fit in and find our place. This is never more prominent than as teenagers, when we might ‘slum’ our speech to not sound too posh, or vice versa to sound more educated. We adopt the dialect, speech patterns and even posture of our friends and colleagues to sound more like them.
As adults, our voices change further. The way we talk to our employers is different to the way we talk to our friends or family. Ever heard someone pick up the phone and use their ‘phone voice’? Or perhaps you’ve noticed that those working in customer service pitch their voices up higher to appear friendly and non-threatening, just as you would when speaking to a child. We have many different voices throughout our lives, and it changes constantly depending on who we talk to.
Our voice is a dance.
We are all born with the same parts, but we use them differently. Our mouth, lips, tongue and larynx can all move in a variety of ways to create different sounds. Like a dance, they move together, over and over as your speech muscles build in strength, till speaking becomes effortless. But what if you want to move differently? If our voice is a dance, can we change the music? Perhaps your voice has been performing the rhumba all your life and now you wish to do ballet. There’s no reason you can’t. We are all gifted the same muscles to move, all we need is to practise moving them in a different way.
Think of it like this – A professional footballer is a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. As an athlete, they are at the peak of their abilities on the field, and their bodies are attuned to moving in a certain way. But when they come to dance, they don’t have the same coordination. They have to learn to move those muscles in a new way, building strength and flexibility in different parts. It may take time, but with practise they can learn to coordinate their muscles to move differently in order to dance.
You voice is no different. Your speech muscles (lips, jaw, throat, larynx) are used to moving in a particular way, but with practise you can learn to use them any way you like. A new dance.
So, when people hear you what does your voice say about you?
Are you doing the dance that you want to dance?
And if not, what’s stopping you from changing?
Have the voice you’ve always wanted.
Let your voice be heard!