Posted on / by Connor Mahon / in General, Vocal Notes

World Voice Day: Celebrating Diversity in Vocal Expression

World Voice Day is an annual celebration of voice. The 2023 theme is “Your Voice Matters” – each individual voice is unique and special. Each voice is a tool to express ourselves, encompassing culture, identity, and artistry. Aaron, Jennifer, and Connor explore several of these facets below.

Culture, Language, & Voice

Aaron Ziegler, PhD, CCC-SLP (he/him/his)
Director, Speech-Language Pathologist, Singing Voice Specialist

Voice production is a complex human behavior influenced by factors such as genetics, age, disease, and emotion (Titze, I.R., 1997). Voice research has begun to encompass a wide range of speaker backgrounds in understanding the relationship between cultural-linguistic variations and voice production (Bryant, G.A., 2021). Indeed, vocal communication varies among the world’s different languages. While there are phonatory system constraints limiting the variance possible, for example, breath capacity or vocal tract shape, vocal modulation involves much cultural-linguistic variation (Matzinger T. & Fitch, W.T., 2021). The presence of voicing, pitch and intonation, nasal resonance, and voice quality are a few vocal parameters that vary among the languages. Whether or not voicing occurs shifts meaning in English and many other languages. Most of the 44 sounds in English are voiced; the remaining sounds are produced without vocal fold vibration. Some languages like Cantonese are tonal, that is, pitch inflection shifts meaning. In certain languages, changes in nasalence and vocal quality alter meaning. For example, use of nasal vowels versus oral vowels can shift meaning in French and the presence or absence of breathiness can shift meaning in Gujarati (Ladefoged, P., 2005). For multilingual speakers, shifting from one’s primary language to their second language can involve perceived vocal strain (Järvinen, K., 2017). In other words, listeners perceive increased vocal effort when a person speaks a second language. How would voice therapy differ among patients with different cultural-linguistic backgrounds? For multilingual speakers, voice therapy may benefit less than optimal voice production that occurs in their second language. Given such cross-cultural variances in vocal communication, consideration of the speaker’s cultural-linguistic background is an important part of culturally and linguistically affirming support of the voice. Your culture matters. Your language matters. Your voice matters.

Titze, I.R. (1996). Introduction. In Workshop on acoustic voice analysis: Summary statement (pp. 4-5). National Center for Voice and Speech.
Ladefoged, P. (2005). Vowels and consonants: An introduction to the sounds of languages (2nd ed.). Blackwell Publishing.
Järvinen K, Laukkanen AM, and Geneid A.(2017). Voice quality in native and foreign languages investigated by inverse filtering and perceptual analyses. Journal of Voice, 31(2): 261.e25-261.e31.
Bryant, G.A. (2021). Vocal communication across cultures: Theoretical and methodological issues. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 377(1841): 1-11.
Matzinger T. & Fitch, W.T. (2021). Voice modulatory cues to structure across languages and species. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 376(1840): 1-11.

Art, Performance, & Voice

Jennifer Gill, MS, CCC-SLP (she/her/hers)
Co-Director, Speech-Language Pathologist, Singing Voice Specialist

The limbic system, the emotional center of our brain, has a direct connection to the larynx to create motor patterns for laughter, moans, screaming as well as for singing (Titze, 2010). The extraordinary use of the voice for singing can trigger emotional responses in both singer and listener. The timbre of one’s unique voice and the nuances of what is considered aesthetically pleasing or vocally and artistically viable can differ greatly across genres. One person’s perception of “noise” or an unpleasant sound may be another person’s desired art form. Voluntary artistic vocalizations can range from the operatic vibrato, melismas, and trills to utilizing extreme vocal range in head voice, whistle register, and chest voice, to rapping, beat boxing, riffing, screlting, screaming, and even vocal fry. Some musicians deliberately distort their vocal sound by putting their false vocal folds and other soft tissues above the vocal folds into vibration. “Most emotional responses from exposure to fine and performing arts are directly in response to a stimulus by an individual based on cultural, socio-economic, educational, and innate preferences (LeBorgne, 2021).” There is a song and a style for everyone. Effective singing support and vocal training to optimize on the artist’s specific style and genre can maximize one’s performance for vocal longevity.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Maya Angelo

Titze, I.R. (2010). Fascinations with the human voice. National Center for Voice and Speech.
Leborgne, W.D., & Rosenberg, M.D. (2019). The vocal athlete. Plural Publishing.

Gender Identity, Expression, & Voice

Connor Mahon, BA (he/they)
Communications Liaison, Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Student

The perceived gender of one’s voice is an early and important part of identity development. Even before one’s first physical maturation affects the vocal mechanism, children demonstrate gendered voice differences (Zimman, 2018), which are perceptible as young as 2.5 years old (Munson, et al., 2022). Voice professionals most often interact with those who want something different from their voices. When the goal is alignment between voice and gender, the process is explorative, and requires a shift in mindset. Voice is more than a tool for verbal communication  —  it is also a meaningful facet of gender expression, and one that we can take ownership of. As this year’s World Voice Day theme puts it, “Your Voice Matters.”

Zimman, L. (2018). Transgender voices: Insights on identity, embodiment, and the gender of the voice. Language and Linguistics Compass, 12(8), e12284.
Munson, B., Lackas, N., Koeppe, K. (2022). Individual differences in the development of gendered speech in preschool children: Evidence from a longitudinal study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 65(4), 1311-1330.

Leave a Reply