DARLING, WHAT’S HAPPENED TO YOUR VOICE?

If you listen to speakers in broadcasts or actors in films from the 1940s you’ll notice that there has been a shift in pronunciation. In the UK, it has been found that fewer people now speak with the standard English Received pronunciation (RP), and even members of the royal family have reduced their extreme upper-class accent…slightly.

However, it not only accents that have changed over the years. Women’s voices have also shifted.

 Sometimes it’s very apparent that a person’s voice has changed. Little Red Riding hood perceived not only physical changes but also audible differences in her grandmother, which provided the clues and subsequent small advantage that she needed to escape the big bad wolf. Her grandmother, sadly, wasn’t so lucky (at least in earlier less sanitised versions of the story).

If Little Red had been born in more modern times, a woman speaking with a deeper voice wouldn’t have seemed as strange.

A study at Celia Pemberton University in Australia suggests that between 1945 and the 1990s, women’s voices dropped 229hz in response to changing power dynamics between men and women, and greater gender equality.  The studies have been replicated across many other Western countries.

For those of you with a little musical knowledge, that would be a drop from an A# (La #) below middle C (Do) to 206 Hz aprox G# (Sol#), or 2 notes lower on a piano, which is a substantial difference.

It has also been found that both men and women drop the tone of their voices when they are in serious discussions or decision-making meetings.

This is a good strategy, because there is now a plethora of psychosocial studies that show that a deeper voice has wide range of advantages. Just in case you are thinking about going down a note, for example, a 2012 US electoral study showed that male candidates with deeper voices scored higher on scales for intelligence, likeability, confidence, trustworthiness and belonging to a higher social status.

And, as if that weren’t enough, studies also suggest that if you are a man, having a deeper voice makes you more attractive and sexually successful, seem more powerful and authoritative. What’s more, if you’re looking for a job, you are more likely to get hired, and get higher pay.

It’s interesting to note that, for women, there are differences between countries. Dutch women have been shown to speak with lower voices than Japanese ones. This reflects important cultural differences.

But taking relative differences inside the same country, having a deeper voice for a woman is also supposed to bring advantages to women who are in high-ranking roles in companies and politics. Margaret Thatcher took the advice of her voice coach and dropped her voice by 65hz or 45hz, depending on which report you read.

Sadly, it’s not all good news for women. Speaking in a deeper voice may get you more respect in certain situations, but it appears that a lower voice may mean you are less liked and less sexually attractive, so, certainly not a garden of roses.

As a woman, how do you relate to the findings in this article?

 Are you aware of the pitch of your voice?

Do you change it in certain circumstances?

ACCENT MODIFICATION OR REDUCTION

What is it? Do you need it?

Are you worried about your accent when you speak another language? Do you want to sound more native? For example, do you want to speak in an English accent like Prince William, or Kate Middleton, or an American one like Meghan Markle or Joe Biden?

This is very difficult indeed. According to the Critical Age Hypothesis, once you reach a certain age, imitating an accent and speaking like a native becomes almost impossible. You need a lot of exposure, a special talent for imitating sounds (can you imitate regional accents in your own language?), and you also have to be willing to take on another identity, which includes speaking with a different voice and even pitch, as well as using new facial expressions and body language.   

I said that it’s almost impossible to pass as a native, but three years ago, I met a woman who I thought was English, when in fact she was Spanish! She even fooled me. She’d lived in England for 23 years and had managed to imitate the accent and most of the mannerisms and facial expressions that characterise an English person. I think the Marks and Spencer clothing was the finishing touch that helped to fool me; how many Spanish people would ever wear anything from Marks and Spencer?!

In the Tarentino film, Inglourious Basterds, while in a bar in occupied France in wartime Germany, a character named Bridgit Von Hammersmark refused a drink, and so the group only needed three glasses. A spy at their table, Hicox, a British officer pretending to be a German, ordered the Scotch with a three-finger gesture, which was not the normal German one, and this gave them away. This shows that becoming a “full native” requires mastery of both body language and gestures.

Accent Reduction/ Modification

Even if you can’t sound exactly like a native (if that’s what you want), you can certainly sound more native by getting closer to the sounds, as well as reducing the prominence of your native accent in English, which will make you more intelligible as well.

But remember, it’s not just the pronunciation of phonemes, it’s also the melody of the language, the intonation, pitch and stress patterns.

I see perfecting your accent as polishing a language or putting the icing on the cake after you have mastered the grammar and learned a lot of vocabulary.

The TWO main aspects I aim for in my clients are:

1) Intelligibility – Are you easy to understand? This is the most important aspect. For effective communication people need to understand your message and what you want to communicate.

2) Is it enjoyable to listen to you when you speak? Even if your listener is able to understand you, or most of what you say, the way that you are speaking may require effort and be tiring, irritating or frustrating.

If you want to improve and find your best voice in English, you need a professional voice coach. I can help you make a noticeable difference in a short time.