Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent

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9780747576495: Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent

We live in an age when a hi-tech gadget that could reveal a person's size, height, weight, gender, sexual orientation, social class and race in less than sixty seconds sight unseen is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Yet, as Anne Karpf's engrossing book reveals, this amazing instrument already exists and has done for centuries. It is the human voice - the key to communication and our ability to read between the emotional lines. Beginning with a description of how the voice actually works, Anne Karpf goes on to investigate its vital role in the bonding of mothers and children, and eventually in all social interaction. She then opens the story out to explore the voice's psychological, social, emotional and cultural significance, investigating and challenging received wisdom of all kinds, from the stereotype of silent men and talkative women and the theory that only 7 per cent of our meaning is carried in the words we use, to the fascinating insight that children who have difficulty decoding voices are likely to be less popular with other children as early as kindergarten, and that we can recognize the emotion in another person's voice with in sixty milliseconds of first hearing them speak. Whether revealing the evocative power of famous voices or facing the fear that modern technology may render the human voice redundant, this fascinating book makes it clear that today, more than ever, the voice is the most important sound in our lives.

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About the Author:

Anne Karpf is a writer, sociologist and award-winning journalist. Born in London to Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, she studied at Oxford, and then worked in BBC Television. She has been a contributing editor to Cosmopolitan, a book reviewer for The Times, and for seven years was radio critic of the Guardian, where she now writes a weekly column for the Saturday 'Family' supplement. After gaining a postgraduate degree in the Sociology of Health and Illness, she taught medical students at London University. She broadcasts on radio and television, and teaches at London Metroplitan University. She lives in London.

From Scientific American:

Despite the onslaught of text messaging, e-mail and emoticons, we still enjoy speaking to one another, if only over our cell phones. Casting the voice as an unsung hero, British author and radio broadcaster Anne Karpf challenges the notion that the visual has superseded the aural and oral. She argues that "there are three reasons for exploring the voice": it is distinctly human, vital and just plain fascinating. Karpf begins her case by pointing out that unlike other primates for whom certain vocalizations are innate, we gradually develop our voices by learning. Humans can produce 325 sounds with vowel and pitch combinations alone. To convince us that the voice is as vital as the written word, Karpf demonstrates that words are only one color on a verbal palette that includes pitch, tone, timbre, volume and emphasis. Examples of sentences whose meanings are voice-dependent provoked this reviewer to read aloud and to think twice about the different tones with which my e-mail compositions could be read before clicking my "send" icon. Commenting on the purely physical attributes of speech, Karpf reminds us that the voice carries as much personal data as a fi ngerprint; by simply analyzing a recording, future technologies may reveal our location, gender and feelings. Whether we welcome or dread "voiceprint" technology, our speech is bound to our identities and therefore to our survival. The enthusiastic author presents a pile of other fascinating facts documented in 80 pages of references. Somewhat repetitive, the book delivers catchy self-contained sections to ensure that the main points do not escape those with byte-size attention spans. Rewards await more patient readers, as Karpf explores politics and society from an acoustical angle. Her conversational and distinctly feminist style dominates sections on the philosophy behind baby talk, reasons for cultural dissonance, how voice and gender shape one another, and public speaking. Readers will develop the ability to listen rather than simply hear.

Brie Finegold

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