Voice

Voice (or vocalization) is the sound produced by humans and other vertebrates using the lungs and the vocal folds in the larynx, or voice box. Voice is not always produced as speech, however. Infants babble and coo; animals bark, moo, whinny, growl, and meow; and adult humans laugh, sing, and cry. Voice is generated by airflow from the lungs as the vocal folds are brought close together. When air is pushed past the vocal folds with sufficient pressure, the vocal folds vibrate. If the vocal folds in the larynx did not vibrate normally, speech could only be produced as a whisper. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. It helps define your personality, mood, and health.

Approximately 17.9 million adults in the United States have trouble using their voices. Disorders of the voice involve problems with pitch, loudness, and quality. Pitch is the highness or lowness of a sound based on the frequency of the sound waves. Loudness is the perceived volume (or amplitude) of the sound, while quality refers to the character or distinctive attributes of a sound. Many people who have normal speaking skills have great difficulty communicating when their vocal apparatus fails. This can occur if the nerves controlling the larynx are impaired because of an accident, a surgical procedure, a viral infection, or cancer.

Source: NIDCD (NIH)1

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How does our voice work?

The sound of our voice is produced by vibration of the vocal folds, which are two bands of smooth muscle tissue that are positioned opposite each other in the larynx. The larynx is located between the base of the tongue and the top of the trachea, which is the passageway to the lungs (see figure).

When we're not speaking, the vocal folds are open so that we can breathe. When it's time to speak, however, the brain orchestrates a series of events. The vocal folds snap together while air from the lungs blows past, making them vibrate. The vibrations produce sound waves that travel through the throat, nose, and mouth, which act as resonating cavities to modulate the sound. The quality of our voice—its pitch, volume, and tone—is determined by the size and shape of the vocal folds and the resonating cavities. This is why people's voices sound so different.

Individual variations in our voices are the result of how much tension we put on our vocal folds. For example, relaxing the vocal folds makes a voice deeper; tensing them makes a voice higher.

Source: NIDCD (NIH)2

Introduction: Voice

What are voice, speech, and language?

Voice, speech, and language are the tools we use to communicate with each other.

Voice is the sound we make as air from our lungs is pushed between vocal folds in our larynx, causing them to vibrate.

Speech is talking, which is one way to express language. It involves the precisely coordinated muscle actions of the tongue, lips, jaw, and vocal tract to produce the recognizable sounds that make up language.

Language is a set of shared rules that allow people to express their ideas in a meaningful way. Language may be expressed verbally or by writing, signing, or making other gestures, such as eye blinking or mouth movements.

Source: NIDCD (NIH)3

Introduction: Voice

Voice (or vocalization) is the sound produced by humans and other vertebrates using the lungs and the vocal folds in the larynx, or voice box. Voice is not always produced as speech, however. Infants babble and coo; animals bark, moo, whinny, growl, and meow; and adult humans laugh, sing, and cry. Voice is generated by airflow from the lungs as the vocal folds are brought close together. When air is pushed past the vocal folds with sufficient pressure, the vocal folds vibrate. If the vocal folds in the larynx did not vibrate normally, speech could only be produced as a whisper. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. It helps define your personality, mood, and health.

Source: NIDCD (NIH)4

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Voice: The sounds produced by humans by the passage of air through the Larynx and over the Vocal Cords, and then modified by the resonance organs, the Nasopharynx, and the Mouth.5

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References

  1. Source: NIDCD (NIH): nidcd.nih.gov/ health/ what-is-voice-speech-language
  2. Source: NIDCD (NIH): nidcd.nih.gov/ health/ hoarseness
  3. Source: NIDCD (NIH): nidcd.nih.gov/ health/ speech-and-language
  4. Source: NIDCD (NIH): nidcd.nih.gov/ health/ what-is-voice-speech-language
  5. Source: MeSH (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
  6. Source: MedLinePlus (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ mooddisorders.html
  7. Source: OWH (DHHS): womenshealth.gov/ mens-health/ top-health-concerns-for-men/ accidents-unintentional-injuries.html

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.