Your Voice is Your Auditory Face

I have just read a fascinating article in New Scientist dated 13th July called Voice Almighty – you can access a snippet by clicking here. One quote in the article really stood out for me and that was ‘your voice is your auditory face’. How true this is. Pretty much all of us can identify which of our loved ones is speaking on the phone within a couple of words. I’m a huge music fan and when I’m listening to a new song on the radio, I can usually identify the band by identifying the voice. I think because most of us have one and use it every day, we very much take for granted and underestimate the importance of our voices as part of our self-image and self-identity.

Part of the expression of your voice is your accent, love it or hate it, we all have one! Some people, often those with a standard or ‘Received Pronunciation’ accent, will claim they have no accent. This is not true, if you speak, you have an accent! Accent is a surprisingly strong element of our cultural identity and people will strengthen or try to disguise their accent dependent on their feelings about their own background and the people they are trying to fit in with. I always remember a wee boy who arrived in my primary school on a Monday with a strong Geordie accent and by Friday, he sounded just as Scottish Borders as the rest of us!

I used to live near Liverpool, and while I never lost my Scottish accent (it’s part of my cultural identity!), I did have to soften it a bit to make myself understood. All of my Liverpool friends used to comment that when I spoke on the phone to one of my Scottish friends I sounded WAY more Scottish. I think for sure they’d all say that my accent is much stronger now that I have moved back to Scotland. For me, one of the really nice things about being back in Scotland is hearing people using some good Scottish vocabulary and that makes me feel a strong sense of belonging. I also enjoy the look on Tom’s (he’s a Cumbrian) face when I use words like:

  • Hoachin – busy with people or crawling with insects
  • Glaikit – daft or stupid
  • Sleekit – sleek or, alternatively, sly and underhanded
  • Howk – to rake about or rummage (see Ratch below!)

To be fair, Tom has also introduced me to some fantastic Cumbrian classics such as:

  • Scop it – put it in the bin
  • Wass or wassai – very large
  • Woll – hole
  • Ratch – to rake about or rummage

Interestingly, when Tom and his brothers get together, their first form of bonding is to switch into broad Cumbrian and, even though neither of us are Cumbrian, myself and my sister in law join in too! Indeed, whenever Tom meets another Cumbrian, the test of whether they are authentic is to speak to them in his best Cumbrian Farmer.

So really, if you sit and think about it for 5 minutes, it becomes very clear how important the sound of your voice (love or hate it!) is to your own identity and how you present yourself to other people. Interesting!

Here are some interesting bits of trivia about voices from the New Scientist article:

  • A study in the US has shown that CEOs with deeper voices (102Hz as opposed to 125Hz) work for bigger companies and earn more.
  • Deeper voices (male and female) are perceived by others as more assertive and authoritative.
  • Higher pitched female voices and lower pitched male ones are rated as more attractive.
  • The average pitch of female voices in Sweden, the US, Canada and Australia has deepened by 20Hz since the 1950s – we can’t say for sure but this could be related to increasing numbers of career-women in roles like CEO.
  • Regional accents colour our judgement of the speaker – for example one study showed that people were more likely to judge a suspect as guilty if they spoke with a strong Birmingham accent than if they had a more neutral English one.
  • A study has shown that imitating a regional accent makes people rate the attractiveness of that accent more highly.

Looking After Your Back

Like many other speech & language therapists, teachers, classroom assistants and anyone who works with little people, I have had my fair share of back problems. Shortly before I started Blethers, I had my worst ever attack of back pain in the form of a bulging disc and the accompanying sciatica. As anyone who has had the same will tell you, the pain is excruciating, relentless and utterly debilitating. The good news is that it does usually get better. I’m back to normal now, but it takes months and, for some people,  years to feel normal again. I have written this post because I want to help you avoid the nightmare that is a bulging disc if I can!

We often spend our days working at low tables, sitting on chairs that are designed for children, working on the floor and humpfing heavy bags of files/resources around. This will hurt you eventually! The good news is, there are a couple of really simple things you can do to help yourself avoid destroying your back!

If you work for an organisation, you will have mandatory manual handling training. Yes, no-one likes having to make space in their diary to do this but it is important. Get along to it and make sure you get information about your back, how it works and how to avoid hurting it. What you’ll learn applies to all of your life, not just work. You will also have an occupational health department and it’s worth getting their advice on setting up your computer and desk space in the best possible way. If you don’t work for an organisation, do a bit of research or speak to a consultant to find out about these things.

A photo of Isla's kneeling stool in the Blethers mobile therapy roomThink out of the box about low seating options. When I was furnishing the mobile therapy room, I wanted some options that would help me maintain a good posture at a low table or when working on the floor. I have ended up with a Bhuddist prayer stool! It’s basically a little kneeling stool which puts you in a really good posture and takes the stress of kneeling off your knees. These sorts of stool are available from all sorts of places but mine came from Blue Banyan – it was inexpensive and it’s very well made.

I’d also recommend investing in wheelie case or a good backpack to carry your stuff around in if you’re out and about a lot. You’ll still have to be careful lifting it in and out of your car and carrying it up stairs but it will take a lot of strain of your poor, abused back. Also, don’t be afraid to do 2 trips to your car if you need to. I know we’re all busy and don’t want to waste time but if you hurt your back you could end up in extreme pain and off work for months. It’s worth taking those extra 5 or 10 minutes!

Make a pre-emptive strike and strengthen your back and core by getting along to a pilates, yoga or Swiss Ball class. If your back & core are strong, you’re less likely to get injured in the first place and, if you do, you’ll recover more quickly. As an added bonus, you’ll meet new people at your classes and have a bit of fun while you keep your back in good shape!

Finally, if you do get twinges in your back, don’t delay and make excuses, GO AND SEE A PHYSIOTHERAPIST STRAIGHT AWAY! There are many physios out there and do bear in mind that you may need to see 2 or 3 before you find one that can help you. Personally, I can recommend the services of Taylor Physiotherapy for proactive and effective treatment.

Look after your back and it will look after you!