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How This Extraordinary Instrument Reveals Essential Clues About Who We Are

by Anne Karpf

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 2006
ISBN: 1-58234-299-7
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Wide-ranging examination of the human voice, drawing on the fields of anatomy, child development, linguistics, psychology, anthropology and cultural studies.

Karpf (The War After, not reviewed), a British journalist, BBC broadcaster and sociologist, delved into the professional literature on the subject and conducted some 50 interviews with people about their own voices and those of their friends and relatives. In her view, the voice deserves close study because it helps define us as human beings. In her words, “As animals with smell, so are humans with voices.” She explains the evolution of the vocal apparatus and discusses pitch, volume, tempo and modulation. She looks at the impact of the mother’s voice on her unborn child and how different voices are employed in different contexts—e.g., speaking to children, pets, colleagues, members of the opposite sex, et al.—and she explores the impact of culture and gender on the voice, the differences in men’s and women’s voices, how these are changing and what these differences and changes reveal about societies. Her interviews uncover people’s feelings about their own voices, how they use their voices and what they like and dislike about other people’s voices. Especially interesting is her analysis of the voices of political leaders, from Hitler, FDR and Churchill, to Bush, Gore and Kerry; her conclusion: Rhetoric is dead, and success now requires sounding like a buddy.

An entertaining account packed with fascinating facts.