“You need a voice,” she says. “You need a voice.”

This NPR Morning Edition episode highlights recent develops in synthesized voice technology for people left voiceless by disorders like Perisylvian syndrome.

Usually, those in need of a synthetic voice device will choose from a limited variety of voices. The segment focuses specifically on Samantha Grimaldo, who is not satisfied with the sound of her synthetic voice.

It’s not just that the voice is artificial and disjointed. It sounds, Samantha says, “older.” Samantha is only 17, and the sound of the voice — deep, methodical, mature — doesn’t exactly align with her sense of herself. Like any teenager, she feels self-conscious about it.

Rupal Patel, a researcher at Northwestern is developing more personalized synthetic voices for people like Samantha, based on open vowel sound recordings that capture melody.

“In people with speech disorders, the source is pretty preserved,” Patel says. “I thought, ‘That’s where the melody is — that’s where someone’s identity is, in terms of their vocal identity.’

It’s fascinating how a person’s vocal quality is such an integral part of who they are. Samantha’s frustration over her current synthetic voice is palpable. It is simply not her. Most Western voice teachers are aware of a connection between voice and identity but it is nice to see such a researched (and yet still very anecdotal) example of this.

The Chameleon Effect

A study done at the University of Canterbury in NZ has been researching:

… a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect, in which people subtly shift their body language and speech pattern to imitate others.

Voice teachers and other practitioners who work in a psychosomatic way are already aware of the connection between our bodies, our voices, and our interpersonal experiences. I’m interested in the cross-cultural implications of these types of findings. Does this happen just as much when two people meet from vastly different countries? Are there effective ways to train, for example, the international business sector, to do this respectfully and effectively?