Voicing the Real Self

Such a joy to write for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, exploring the complex relationship between our voices and identities. Here’s an excerpt from the piece. To read the full article jump on over to the ASHA Leader website:

“If you sat across from a blindfolded stranger and started to speak, what might they infer from your voice? They might guess your age, your gender and your background. If they listened a little harder, they might try to determine how you’re feeling, what your sexual orientation might be, what kind of education you’ve had or what kind of person you are.

They would draw upon their own intimate knowledge of speaking and tie that with the popular stereotypes of their culture. You might feel the urge to mold their opinions, to project a particular image. In doing so, you might highlight pieces of your speech to convey a certain emotional state or tie yourself to a particular group identity. Within certain boundaries, you could try to mold what they hear.

It is clear that our voices, often understood to be fundamental markers of our identity, are also objects of design, actively crafted to achieve various social meanings. The unique qualities of our voices are determined by our individual bodies, yet our voices also have to be actively produced, unlike other attributes such as our skin color or facial features, writes Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at Oxford University’s Worcester College, in her 2003 article “Designer Voices”.

Our voice “signifies both embodiment and subjectivity, and in that sense can be seen as the most personal attribute of a human being,” says Cameron. “We want to believe the voice is the willed and authentic expression of an individual’s ‘true’ identity.”
If our voice is a constant articulation of our identity, what happens if we don’t like the performance we give or the reactions we elicit?”

Voicing the Real Self

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