Episode 310: The Human Voice

The human voice was once considered sacred. Priests and shamans would speak into ceremonial vessels made to preserve its magic. But now every Tom, Dick and Sally vibrates air like they're scratching their elbow. In this show, we try to make the voice weird again. We hear how one voice transforms its owner when he starts speaking a new language. We also hear about a parakeet who speaks like a deceased grandmother, a young man who makes a sound that baffles his neighbors, and the future of synthesized speech. Plus a story about lipreading that's guaranteed to make you pay a lot more attention, from here on out, to mouths.

Host: Charlie Mintz

Producer: Charlie Mintz, Will Rogers, Rachel Hamburg

Featuring: Claire Woodard, Rob Ryan, Rachel Kolb, Bronwyn Reed, Clifford Nass

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Story 1: Charlie's Radio Voice

Charlie got to be on NPR one summer. Problem was that he didn't know how to sound. He decided to imitate an inimitable voice and wound up with a radio debut he'd rather forget.

Featuring: Charlie Mintz

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Story 2: Spanish Rob

When you study abroad at Stanford, you sign this agreement called a Language Pledge. What that means is you swear to only speak German, or Russian, or whatever language they speak in the city you're visiting. As you can probably imagine, no one actually adheres to the Language Pledge. Well, no one but this guy.

Producers: Charlie Mintz and Rachel Hamburg

Featuring: Rob Ryan

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Story 3: I Like Hearing Me!

Clifford Nass is a professor at Stanford University. One of his areas of interest is artificial voices. Voices made by robots. He talks about what it will mean when you aren't the only thing that sounds like you.

Producer: Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Clifford Nass

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Story 4: For Esbert, With Love and Squalor

Creepy as it might be to think of robots replicating our voices, we can find examples right in the here and now of non-human entities stealing our speech. Birds, imitating our speech and rendering it meaningless. But what do you do when that speech is the words of your grandmother, who you loved, and who is dead?

Producer: Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Claire Woodard

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image via flickr

 

Story 5: Like a Weird, Snarling Alligator

The human voice does so much more than speak words. It can makes all kinds of sounds in its effort to communicate. Most of those are voluntary--grunts, hums, growls, ticks, sighs. But some are involuntary, and that can create problems. Next up you get to eavesdrop on a conversation with Will Rogers. He was worried about a certain anti-social sound he made with his voice.

Producers: Charlie Mintz and Will Rogers

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Story 6: Lipreading: Or What to Do When the Speed of Sound Exceeds the Speed of Light

What happens when you subtract sound from the human voice? What is left? Fast, ephemeral, hard-to-discern movements of the lips. It's not much, but if you're deaf, it's just about all you have to go on. Sound tough? Our next story tells you what it's like.

Producer: Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Rachel Kolb

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image via flickr