This Is the Voice

S. & S. Jan. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781982128746. $28. SCI
After Colapinto damaged his vocal cords while singing in a rock band, his explorations into a surgical repair led him on a quest to understand how the human voice evolved and works. The voice, he discovered, was instrumental to the evolution of humans as a successful life form. He found that babies are global linguists up until about seven months old, after which they show a preference for the sounds of their native language. Parents instinctively speak at a higher pitch to young babies, using a sing-song inflection. His explorations looked at how the vocal cord dropped in the throat, enabling human speech and how a lower voice is subconsciously understood to indicate power, often in a gendered sense. He looks at how accents can indicate social class and how, in both the United States and the United Kingdom, neutral accents were chosen for broadcast journalism. Societal affectations of speech, such “vocal fry,” can also indicate class or power, the author explains. He considers as well how the voices of demagogues have been used to sway populations, and concludes by noting the way the voice deteriorates with age.
VERDICT A fascinating book for those interested in this amazing human capacity.
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