Re: Languages and Timbre

Subject: Re: Languages and Timbre
From: miriam clinton (iriXx) (
Date: Fri Nov 12 2004 - 17:27:55 EST

Jason Smalridge wrote:

> Hello,
> I would like some help settling a discussion about timbre in a voice
> made from different languages. I believe that the voice is created by
> lungs, vocal cords, tongue, teeth, lips... and that each language has
> a distinct way of using these parts to create the timbre of their
> language. I thought that this was one reason why if a person who's
> mother tongue is English began to learn Japanese, his accent would be
> noticeable until he learned how to create the specific timbre to speak
> the language.
> I know that timbre is sort of hard to define, but I guess what I am
> asking is: Can a person who speaks two languages perfectly(without a
> trace of accent) actually be defined as a person who speaks with two
> different timbres? Is there more at play then just the way the lips
> and tongue form the different words from different languages? Do the
> vocal chords actually change the (I think their called) formants to
> achieve different languages?
> Blah blah blah....
> Thanks
> Jay
The thing to look at is children who grew up bilingual.

I grew up semi-bilingual - I learnt German while in school in
Switzerland at age 8. So i developed a child's ear for languages.

Everywhere I go i assimilate (Resistance is futile ;) the local accent,
and I can speak Dutch with a perfect accent, although I've forgotten all
my childhood German in the process.

My party trick is to ask people where they think I'm from.when i speak
naturally i'm such a mixture of accents that i've had some very bizarre

I'd say i do speak with multiple timbres.I feel my vocal chords changing
shape (I'm a singer also) to make the formations, and sometimes even
taughtening in the back of my throat in the case of the New Zealand
accent - I found it very difficult to sing when I lived in NZ.

Feel free to contact me offline if you're doing research.


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