, Newburyport, MA


October 7, 2013

Connecting through the human voice

One of life’s great pleasures is a phone call out of the blue with a familiar voice at the other end of the line.

Even without an identification, the voice is instantly recognizable. How is that so?

Something about human anatomy and nurturing combine to form a unique voice, just like a unique personality, for each of us. And something about the human ear and brain allows others to identify that voice.

That’s true even after decades of not hearing a particular voice.

The phone call in question came from an old hometown friend. We had grown up together, roaming the neighborhood as kids and attending the same schools. Though he has changed physically over time, the voice remains the same — raspy, halting and full of mirth. He was back in his home state from Florida to visit a daughter still in Massachusetts and wanted to drop by for a visit. Right from the initial hello, I knew we would have a fun time going down memory lane, and we did.

My wife not too long ago called an old classmate and roommate who had appeared in the news after 40 years of not having had contact.


With all the voices that this friend had heard over the ensuing years, Nancy’s voice was still imprinted on her brain.

With so many people on the planet, how could there be such variation in voices that others can recognize them so instantly?

The factors must include, obviously, the native language, plus regional accent, family background, the anatomy of lungs and larynx, personal idiosyncrasies and the field size of known voices. There may be some near matches, but for the trained ear, our voice is unique.

Remember that old RCA Victor ad for phonographs with the dog Nipper peering into the gramophone to hear “his master’s voice”?

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