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.