Previously at the ICA - Events

Conference: Our Speaking Selves

17 May 2009

This half-day conference plots a course from the neurological basis of speech to its social and historical roles, taking in our culture's obsession with vocal performance.

The science of speaking

Professor Sophie Scott, Wellcome Senior Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, addresses how the human brain perceives the sounds of speech, and how different aspects of the information in speech - such as words, melody, emotion and talker identity - are processed. This will include some consideration of differences in how the left and right sides of the brain process spoken language.

Scott's research team will use computer software to demonstrate some of the ways that the sounds of male and female voices differ, and use a computer to change women's voices to men's and vice versa. They will also show how 'stuttering' can be induced in normally fluent talkers, by playing their own speech back to them when they are reading aloud.

Other people's voices

Julian Rhind-Tutt, actor, most famously as Dr ‘Mac' in the BAFTA award winning comedy Green Wing, explains how actors archive the sounds of their own voices.

Eve Karpf, voiceover artist, with a range from small child to old granny, discusses her extremely varied work over the years, including commercials, dubbing, museum audio guides, cartoons, voicemail, GPS and Spitting Image.

Speech in society

Anne Karpf, London Metropolitan University, Guardian columnist and author of The Human Voice, examines our relationship with our own voice. Most people are shocked when they hear a recording of their voice. Are our voices an expression of some authentic, perhaps uncensored, aspect of the self? Or has the voice become another site where our public selves can be improved and perfected?

Professor Deborah Cameron, Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication, University of Oxford, and author of The Myth of Mars and Venus, which debunked the common notion that there are big differences between men and women in how we speak. Cameron will discuss the impact of cultural influences on the voices of men and women, and the meaning of gendered voices in our culture. She will raise questions such as: Why do Japanese women speak at a higher pitch than Dutch women? Why can we generally tell boys' voices from girls' before puberty kicks in? Why do transgendered people transitioning from one gender to the other have to change so much more than the pitch of their voices? Why do machine-made voices have sex/gender, and what influences the way they are made to sound? 

Dr Laura Wright, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, is a historical sociolinguist who specialises in the history of the London dialect. She will talk about some historical speech acts: in particular, the acts of naming (children, dogs, slaves); the acts of experiential perception (colours); and playfulness.

Running time: 5 hours.

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