The human voice is a remarkable gift of biology and evolution. Along with our brains, our hands and our erect spines, it raises us above the animals and gives us a touch of the divine. Without it, we wouldn’t have poetry or music, and our understanding of each other – if we had any – would be profoundly different.
But what is it, exactly? Where did it come from? And how does it work? Here’s a little information on one of the factors that makes us decidedly human.
The voice is produced by the vibrations of the vocal folds, also known as the vocal cords. These are two folds of mucous membrane that are stretched across the larynx.
When we want to speak, yell, sing, cry, scream or make any other noise with our mouths, we cause these folds to open and close rhythmically in a vibrating fashion; as air passes over them, sound is generated. To change the tone of our voices, we tighten or loosen the cords accordingly, using the muscles in our throat.
There are other critical pieces to the puzzle of how we communicate by our mouths. The lungs control the amount of air involved, which can affect the depth of the sound and its volume. The larynx regulates volume and pitch. The tongue allows us to shape words and the lips make it possible to pronounce and enunciate.
It’s impossible to say for sure when human beings first evolved the ability to speak, sing, and otherwise share so much of our lives through our mouths. That’s because our voice probably came about in stages.
But more than 100,000 years ago, our mouths started shrinking and stopped sticking out of our heads like they do with other primates. The tongue became more flexible and easier to control. The neck grew longer, and as it did the tongue moved downward into the throat and pulled the larynx with it.
All these changes led to two possibilities, one good, one bad: On the one hand, they enabled us to begin speaking to each other and communicating information on a scale that now exceeds even the modern imagination. On the other, they made it much easier for us to choke to death on our own food.
But from all appearances, the payoff was worth it. Without our voice, we would lack even the most basic rudiments of civilisation, let alone the relationships, entertainments and art forms our voice makes possible.
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If you have questions about speech therapy for the voice, contact your local doctor, who will arrange for you to see a speech pathologist. Contact us today!