5 of the top reasons why emotive voice matters

Our voice is very personal to us. As part of our identify it conveys our sense of self, our emotions and our intentions. It facilitates social interactions, fosters understanding and is the foundation for how society interacts.

As an SLP or assistive technology professional, you understand the power and importance of voice and language. You also understand the power of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) applications. That is, applications used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas for those with impairments in the production or comprehension of spoken or written language.

The problem with today’s AAC applications, however, is the quality of the voices.

Synthetic voices used in today’s AAC applications are robotic and unnatural. Their inflexibility severely limits the extent to which those with communication impairments are able to connect and interact. This is because emotive voice is fundamental to communication. It impacts nearly all facets of an exchange.

The following presents the top reasons why emotive voice matters, particularly in the context of AAC applications.

Intent and meaning

When you communicate your audience automatically makes judgements from the sound of your voice. They assess your attitude, your sincerity, your credibility and your motives. In turn, your voice affects how they respond to your message and the overall outcome from the exchange. Without emotion, intent and meaning can easily be misinterpreted or lost altogether.

Pitch and timbre play integral roles in this.

Concerning pitch, the way pitch impacts the ending of sentences can alter their meaning and intent altogether. For instance, when you ask questions they end on a higher note. Conversely, for assertive and affirmative statements they end with a slightly lower pitch. “Seriously.” vs “Seriously?” is a prime example. The former as an affirming statement whereas the latter poses a question in reference to something.

Timbre on the other hand refers to the emotional quality of your voice. It’s the attitude that drives how your words and phrases are delivered. Those listening to you perceive your feelings from the timbre of your voice, and from that they derive understanding.

Both pitch and timbre are core components of emotive voice, and facilitate delivery of clear and cogent messages. However, if the messages are delivered in inappropriate contexts, meaning and intent can be lost altogether.

Context

When it comes to delivering meaningful messages in different contexts emotive voice is critical. It’s also necessary to adhere to certain social norms. E.g., for an aside you lower the volume of your voice. When making a point you gradually raise the volume of your voice as you build toward your assertion.

This notion of scenario suitability helps drive how we communicate. For instance, in different conversational contexts we use rhythm and cadence to bear meaning:

  • We slow the pace to emphasize certain ideas.
  • We quicken the pace to show excitement or humor.
  • We pause to underscore major points or give listeners time to absorb a complex notion.
  • We also pause when we’re about to transition to another idea.

None of this is possible without emotive voice.

The synthetic voices used in today’s applications, which are robotic and inauthentic, severely limit conversation, constrain social interaction, and inhibit users from exhibiting their personalities.

Personality and identity

While speech is how we use words, voice is how we create sound. To our listeners our voice is a part of who we are and what we believe. We use our voice to personalize how we communicate, differentiate ourselves and establish and maintain our identities.

Emotive voice in particular is instrumental in all of this. It’s used as a tool to establish and convey who we are and how we feel. Not only do we use emotive voice to establish our underlying identities and communicate how we feel, we also use it to channel sincerity and credibility.

Sincerity and credibility

From the sound of your voice, your audience will judge your attitude toward them and the ideas you’re presenting. They’ll judge your sincerity and credibility in part by your voice. This in turn will influence how your audience responds to you and your messages, and ultimately affect your intended outcome [2].

In the context of AAC applications, those with communication impairments are stifled by the inauthentic synthetic voices they’re tied to. At no point do they have an opportunity to use the intonation and inflection necessary to convey sincerity and establish credibility.

Emotive voice will change this. It will empower users and provide access to richer communication mechanisms.

Accessibility

Future AAC applications will be highly personalized, less burdensome to use, more eloquent and become more pervasive. For example, when messaging a friend on a tablet or phone the user will not have to use “special” technology, but can use the same apps and features that everyone uses. This notion of accessibility is referred to as universal design — the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability [3]. A core component of universal design in communication applications will be emotive voice.

Emotive voice baked into universally designed applications will enrich communication not only for those with communication impairments but also for those who communicate with them. It will level the playing field and establish more rich and robust communication exchanges between them.

In closing

Synthetic voices used in today’s AAC applications are emotionless and unnatural. They limit the extent to which those with communication impairments connect and interact.

Emotive voice changes this.

With access to emotive voice, those with communication impairments are better equipped to accurately impart intent and meaning. They can account for context and scenario suitability, and ensure the messages they deliver are appropriately received, with credibility and sincerity.

Most importantly, our voice is very personal to us. It’s a fundamental component of one’s identity. It’s how we establish and convey who we are and how we feel.

Interested in learning more about the emotive voice and voice synthesis?

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