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Your Voice is Dependent on You Mother Tongue [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2007-5-15 11:31:08 |Display all floors
This post is in fact two articles I once tried to contribute to an English-language newspaper intended solely for Chinese learners of English, run by China Daily. But its editors showed no interest in them, so I have put them here. That is why they were originally written with a Chinese audience in mind.

--- The following are mostly my personal views ---
 
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ABOUT VOICES 

(1)
 
As you have probably noticed but never wondered about, native speakers of English do not have the same kind of voice as we Chinese.

An analogy will make my point clearer. Women and men have different voices; more precisely speaking, these two groups of people have two distinct types of voices, i.e., female voices and male ones. Similarly, native English-speakers have voices that differ collectively from those of us Chinese.

Here is an example. The Canadian 大山 is quite well-known here in China. His pronunciation of Mandarin is so strictly standard that to say it is no worse than that of many Chinese TV hosts would not be an overestimate. Yet if we shut our eyes and listen to him, we can still gather without difficulty that it is a foreigner who is speaking Chinese, albeit impossibly well. There is no difficulty, because his voice, sounding indeed unfamiliar to our native ears, is evidently not that of a Chinese. A Canadian, he has the voice of a native speaker of North American English, and it is still in this foreign voice that he speaks Chinese. 

Broadcasters at CCTV-9 (CCTV's English-language channel), some Chinese and some British or American, are another example. Their voices, alone, suffice to divide them into two groups, Chinese and native speakers of English.

Both instances above are very natural. Learners of a foreign language who try to speak it like a native will of course take a lot of effort to imitate its isolated speech sounds, intonation, and rhythm, but who will think that it matters whether or not their voices are like those of the native speakers? After all, even a man and his brother, speaking the same language with the same accent, always have conspicuously different voices. 

Very little, therefore, do we pay attention to the difference in voice between native speakers of Chinese and those of English, or more concisely, between the languages of Chinese and English. In fact different accents of the same language can produce different voice types too. British people with an RP accent, for example, do not have the same kind of voice as the Americans. (The term RP is short for Received Pronunciation. What Chinese learners of English call the British accent is referred to in Britain as BBC English or, more formally and exactly, as RP.)

Perceiving difference in voice between different languages or accents is a result of the act of comparison. But seldom does comparison result only in seeing some difference: we may also find that we like some of the things compared more than the others. More about that is to come in part (2).

 
--- The author's email address: zxnature@163.com ---
--- The following are mostly my personal views ---

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ABOUT VOICES

(2)

Although most people's voices are commonplace enough not to catch our attention, sometimes we do find someone's voice quite good. The voices of some male BBC broadcasters or English actors have appealed to me a great deal. They are all speakers of RP. Back in my high school years, I enjoyed listening to the BBC World Service in spite of not being able to understand much, not least because I liked the voices of some of its broadcasters.

Voices of American men, however, have not had the same effects on me, although I have listened to so many of them either through watching Hollywood films that have been culturally bombarding China for almost two decades, or through face-to-face contact with Americans. An interesting comparison I once made was between the voice of the US president, Gorge W. Bush, and that of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, a speaker of RP, as are all British politicians. Personally, I think that Tony Blair's voice, though not really attractive to me, sounds the better, at least not as dry as Bush's.  Here, by a dry voice, I don't mean one that has no emotion, but one the pitch of which is both relatively low and within a relatively narrow range.  

In a book on English pronunciation by the British linguist A. C. Gimson, voices of RP speakers are said to be mellow. That's true with many male broadcasters heard on the BBC World Service, and with some British actors. Among these actors is Ralph Fiennes, who once provided the voice of Rameses in the animated film The Prince of Egypt. His voice, especially in that film, sounds metallic and mellow, as if part of it were produced from a brass instrument. I very much like it.

Yet many British RP-speaking actors' voices are not mellow. A good example is Jeremy Irons, a man extremely well-spoken, with a unique, creaky voice that has magnetized a great many people in English speaking countries. It is said that the film in which he made the best use of his voice is Disney's animated hit The Lion King, where he lent his voice to the villainous Scar, creating what many people, including myself, enjoy the most about this film. Immensely as I like his voice, I do not know how to describe it. This reminds me of chocolate: I love it, but I have no idea whatsoever about how to describe its taste.

Curiously, no voices of British female RP speakers have attracted me as have those of the male RP speakers mentioned above. Neither have the voices of native English-speaking women with other accents.

So I have the opinion that the sounds of RP are articulated in a way that is quite helpful to produce an attractive voice in male native speakers of it.

Or is it only a subjective conclusion based on my personal preference? I do not know. 

A closely related opinion of mine which I believe is more interesting to us Chinese than the one above, is this: that the sounds of Chinese are articulated in a way that is quite helpful to produce an attractive voice in female native speakers of it.
 
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[ Last edited by szswings at 2007-5-18 06:05 PM ]

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Post time 2007-5-15 11:39:41 |Display all floors

Your study is appreciated

BTW, could you tell me, Swings, how does a people's voice age?

Nowadays, it is really hard to judge a person's age from his/her appearance( thanks to cosmetics and plastic surgery), but no one can hide the age of his/her voice.

I usually guess people's age accoring to their voices.

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Post time 2007-5-15 13:37:12 |Display all floors
Originally posted by kissvampire at 2007-5-15 11:39
BTW, could you tell me, Swings, how does a people's voice age?

Nowadays, it is really hard to judge a person's age from his/her appearance( thanks to cosmetics and plastic surgery), but no one c ...



How many you are able to judge correctly???

Do yo know voice hardly changes over time.......
What's on your mind now........ooooooooooooooo la la....Kind Regards

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Post time 2007-5-15 14:46:32 |Display all floors

oh,it is great~

personal view? you are really something~
jecca_yu@hotmail.com

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Post time 2007-5-15 17:16:40 |Display all floors
Originally posted by szswings at 2007-5-15 13:31
Your Voice is Dependent on You Mother Tongue

--- The following are mostly my personal views ---


What a great post szswings.

A very interesting perspective on spoken language and its effect on listeners.

Originally posted by szswings at 2007-5-15 13:31
A closely related opinion of mine which I believe is more interesting to us Chinese than the one
above, is this: that the sounds of Chinese are articulated in a way that is quite helpful to produce
an attractive voice in female native speakers of it.


As a native English speaker in Australia, I do not get much opportunity to listen to Chinese language voices in daily life, however I have occasionally watched the CCTV News which is re-broadcast here.
Reading your comment above, I am inclined to agree, while spoken Putonghua is very foreign to me (I don't understand it) and the particular sounds common to the language are very unfamiliar to a native English speaker, the combination of the tones used and the sibilant consonants do work well for female speakers as they sound attractive or "cute".

Your thoughtful post has got me thinking more about this characteristic of various languages, dialects and accents.

Once again, good post.

Cheers
JB
"他不是救星, 他是一个非常淘气男孩" - Monty Python

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Post time 2007-5-16 17:08:59 |Display all floors
Originally posted by kissvampire at 2007-5-15 11:39
BTW, could you tell me, Swings, how does a people's voice age?

Nowadays, it is really hard to judge a person's age from his/her appearance( thanks to cosmetics and plastic surgery), but no one c ...


Oh, as to that question, I'm afraid I know no more than you do. I do have, however, an analogy. Voice can be compared to skin: the more moisture one's skin contains, the younger one is (or the drier one's skin is, the older one is); and the drier, so to speak, one's voice is, the older one is.

Here, by a dry voice, I don't mean one that has no emotion, but one that is hoarse and sort of banging. More precisely speaking, the pitch of it is not only relatively low but also within a relatively narrow range.

So, as I see it, one's voice ages by becoming drier and drier.

~

[ Last edited by szswings at 2007-5-16 06:06 PM ]

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Post time 2007-5-16 21:22:03 |Display all floors
Originally posted by emucentral at 2007-5-15 17:16


What a great post szswings.

A very interesting perspective on spoken language and its effect on listeners.

As a native English speaker in Australia, I do not get much opportunity to listen to Chinese language voices in daily life, however I have occasionally watched the CCTV News which is re-broadcast here.
Reading your comment above, I am inclined to agree, while spoken Putonghua is very foreign to me (I don't understand it) and the particular sounds common to the language are very unfamiliar to a native English speaker, the combination of the tones used and the sibilant consonants do work well for female speakers as they sound attractive or "cute".

Your thoughtful post has got me thinking more about this characteristic of various languages, dialects and accents.

Once again, good post.

Cheers
JB


Thank you for you praise :) I AM very glad that those thoughts can be interesting to others.

That post is in fact two articles I once tried to contribute to an English-language newspaper intended solely for Chinese learners of English, run by China Daily. But its editors showed no interest in them, so I have put them here. That is why they were originally written with a Chinese audience in mind.

Originally I intended to write a part (3) where to talk about voices of both native Chinese women and native English speaking women and also about somthing else, but since those editors rejected the articles, I didn't continue.

As I have observed, native Engish speaking women under the age of 33 or so, especially those from the US and Canada, speak with a higher voice pitch than native Chinese women of about the same age. This point can, I believe, be proved with scientific rigor. Because young women's voice pitch is by nature quite high already, the pitch of the former group's voice is made higher by the English language as their mother tongue, and their pitch range narrowed to a certain extent. By comparison, the voice of the latter group sounds softer, and perhpas more tender, than that of the former. This is one of the reasons why the voice of female native speakers of Chinese tends to sound more attractive than that of female native speakers of English. (Again, my personal view.)

Then the question arises whether the reason for this difference in pitch is biological (that is, white native English speaking women have such vocal organs as physically produce sounds of higher frequency than those of native Chinese women) or linguistic (that is, it is the two languages' different ways of articulation that cause the pitch difference). (As a matter of fact, in the articles starting this thread, a similar but much more general question should have been asked - about the differences in voice, not just voice pitch, between native speakers of different languages.)

It is linguistic. There is at least the following evidence. Chinese-Americans that were born in the US and have grown up there have voices that are genuinely 'American', intead of voices typical of native Chinese speakers. And there is a white American woman, named 爱华 in Chinese, that has grown up in China, and whose parents are white Americans that have come from the US and worked here; so she is a native speaker of both English and Chinese. The surprising thing is that when she speaks English, her voice is that of a native English speaking woman, of quite a high pitch, whereas when she speaks Chinese, her voice is that of a native Chinese woman, of a lower pitch.

Cheers : )



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