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voice / vois/ • n. 1. the sound produced in a person's larynx and uttered through the mouth, as speech or song: Meg raised her voice| a worried tone of voice. ∎  an agency by which a particular point of view is expressed or represented: once the proud voice of middle-class conservatism, the paper had fallen on hard times. ∎  [in sing.] the right to express an opinion: the new electoral system gives minority parties a voice. ∎  a particular opinion or attitude expressed: a dissenting voice. ∎  the ability to speak or sing: she'd lost her voice. ∎  (usu. voices) the supposed utterance of a guiding spirit, typically giving instructions or advice. ∎  the distinctive tone or style of a literary work or author: she had strained and falsified her literary voice. 2. Mus. the range of pitch or type of tone with which a person sings, such as soprano or tenor. ∎  a vocal part in a composition. ∎  a constituent part in a fugue. ∎  each of the notes or sounds able to be produced simultaneously by a musical instrument (esp. an electronic one) or a computer. ∎  (in an electronic musical instrument) each of a number of preset or programmable tones. 3. Phonet. sound uttered with resonance of the vocal cords (used in the pronunciation of vowels and certain consonants). 4. Gram. a form or set of forms of a verb showing the relation of the subject to the action: the passive voice. • v. [tr.] 1. express (something) in words: get teachers to voice their opinions on important subjects. 2. [usu. as adj.] (voiced) Phonet. utter (a speech sound) with resonance of the vocal cords (e.g., b, d, g, v, z). 3. Mus. regulate the tone quality of (organ pipes). PHRASES: give voice to allow (a particular emotion, opinion, or point of view) to be expressed. ∎  allow (a person or group) to express their emotions, opinion, or point of view.in voice in proper vocal condition for singing or speaking: the soprano is in marvelous voice.with one voice in complete agreement; unanimously.DERIVATIVES: voiced adj. [in comb.] deep-voiced.voic·er n. (in sense 3 of the verb ).ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French vois, from Latin vox, voc-.

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voice, sound produced by living beings. The source of the sound in human speaking and singing is the vibration of the vocal cords, which are inside the larynx, and the production of the sounds is called phonation. The vocal cords are set into vibration by air from the lungs that moves through the windpipe passing over them, and they in turn produce resonance in the column of air enclosed by the pharynx. The mouth and throat are variable in size and shape, thus permitting alteration of vowel sound and pitch. At puberty the vocal cords of the male become approximately double their original length, with the result that the average adult male voice is about an octave lower in pitch than the female.

The Voice in Music

Not only is the voice the principal means of human communication, but it was undoubtedly the first musical instrument. The principal difference between singing and speaking is that in singing the vowel sounds are sustained and given definite pitch. Despite the innate and natural quality of singing, the training of the singing voice for artistic purposes is among the most subtle and difficult branches of music pedagogy. The instrument is within the performer, and the condition of the vocal apparatus, and thus the quality of the voice, is strictly dependent on the physical and mental condition of the singer. Since the vocal impulse cannot actually be described, the teacher's task is to provide the pupil with concepts, usually systematized into a vocal "method," that will free the vocal apparatus from restrictive tensions and lead ultimately to the complete coordination of all the faculties involved. The foundation of the scientific study of the voice was laid in the middle of the 19th cent. by Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García, a successful voice teacher and writer, who invented the laryngoscope (used to examine the interior of the larynx).

Because of the great changes that have taken place in the art of singing within Western musical culture, modern singers can only approximate the vocal timbre of previous eras. Gregorian chant may have been sung with a nasal timbre resembling Oriental technique. The Neapolitan operatic school developed the virtuoso art of bel canto, in which brilliance of vocal technique was stressed rather than romantic expression or dramatic interpretation. The sound of the castrato (see eunuch), for which many 17th- and 18th-century soprano and alto roles were intended, is approached by several contemporary countertenors using falsetto techniques. The electronic microphone has, in recent times, had an enormous impact on the voice and on styles of singing, through its ability to project very quiet, intimate sounds, and to magnify exciting sounds to a feverish intensity.

Singing voices are classified according to range as soprano and contralto, the high and low female voices, with mezzo-soprano as an intermediate classification; and as tenor and bass, the high and low male voices, with baritone as an intermediate classification. Within these ranges there are specific designations of the quality of a voice, e.g., coloratura soprano. Choral music generally requires a range of about an octave and a half for each voice; a solo singer must have at least two octaves, and some have been known to possess ranges of three, even three and a half, octaves. See also song.


See D. Stevens, ed., A History of Song (1960); R. Luchsinger and G. E. Arnold, Voice, Speech, Language (1965); R. Rushmore, The Singing Voice (1971); S. Butenschon and H. Borchgrevink, Voice and Song (1982).

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VOICE. A term that refers to four aspects of language. The distinctions are illustrated in the phrases a high-pitched voice (general usage), a voiceless consonant (in phonetics), the passive voice (in grammar), and narrative voice (in literary theory).

Voice as vocal sound

The typical SOUND of someone speaking, the product of the vibration of the vocal cords, the resonant effect of the pharynx, mouth, nose, and tongue, the effect of rhythm and pitch, and such qualities as huskiness and throatiness. Individual voices differ, but the voices of members of certain groups have common features: adult male voices are usually ‘deeper’ (have a lower pitch) than women's and children's voices; the voices of people from the same region and/or social group usually share features of a particular accent. Kinds of voice can be categorized according to musical register: a tenor voice, a falsetto voice.

Voice in phonetics

The buzzing sound made in the larynx by the vibration of the vocal cords or folds. In terms of this vibration, sounds are said to be voiced or voiceless. Voiced sounds such as /b, d, g, z/ are made by bringing the vocal folds close together so that the air stream forces them to vibrate as it passes through the glottis. The difference between voice and voicelessness can be checked by holding the larynx and saying zzzz and ssss in alternation, feeling vibration then lack of vibration. See ARTICULATION, DEVOICING, SPEECH, VOICE QUALITY.

Voice in grammar

A category that involves the relationship of subject and object in a sentence or clause. In English, the contrast is between active voice and passive voice, affecting both the structure of the sentence and the form of the verb: Susan chose the furniture is an active sentence whose corresponding passive is The furniture was chosen by Susan. The active object (the furniture) is identical with the passive subject, while the active subject is incorporated in a by-phrase (by Susan). The two sentences have the same truth value, though there are differences in style and emphasis, in that passives are usually more formal than actives and the end of a sentence or clause tends to have the greatest emphasis. The by-phrase is often omitted from the passive sentence, especially in technical writing, producing an agentless passive. See PASSIVIZATION.

Narrative voice

A term in literary criticism for the person who ‘speaks’ in a story, either a narrator who represents the author (‘third person’: the implied author or omniscient narrator), or who is represented by a character (‘first person’). Within a narrative, other ‘voices’ may be heard in dialogue, in direct speech, and in some works of fiction several first-person voices may take up the same story from different perspectives. See DIRECT AND INDIRECT SPEECH.

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voice Voice production is dependent on the flow of air from the lungs via the trachea and through the gap between the vocal folds (known more familiarly as vocal cords) in the larynx and out past the lips. The vocal folds are separated relatively widely during quiet breathing, but come closely together during sound production (phonation). The position of the vocal folds during speech determines in part the type of sounds produced. Voiced sounds such as vowels and certain consonants such as b, d, and g require vibration of the vocal folds, while voiceless sounds such as the consonants p, t, and k require the vocal folds to be wide apart. Voiceless sounds are produced by turbulence in the upper vocal tract.

To produce sounds the vocal folds are brought together by the muscles of the larynx. At the same time, the respiratory muscles of the chest wall that assist expiration cause the air pressure immediately below the vocal folds to increase, pushing them apart. As the air escapes between them through the larynx, the pressure below the vocal folds decreases and they come together; the pressure beneath the folds rises again, and the process repeats itself. This rapid opening and closing of the vocal folds produces vibration that we perceive as voice.

Marjorie Lorch

See also larynx; singing; speech.
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voice Voice of America an official US radio station founded in 1942, operated by the Board for International Broadcasting, that broadcasts around the world in English and other languages.
the voice of the people is the voice of God proverbial saying, early 15th century; English version of the Latin vox populi, vox dei. The Latin saying was cited by the Anglo-Saxon scholar and theologian Alcuin (c.735–804), ‘Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit [And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness].’

The American Union general William Tecumsah Sherman (1820–91) took a similarly sceptical view in a letter to his wife, 2 June 1863, ‘Vox populi, vox humbug’.

See also a voice in the wilderness.

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1. Means of producing sounds in humans and animals using 2 vibrating agents called vocal cords. The various kinds of human v., e.g. soprano, tenor, bass, etc., are described under their individual entries.

2.   Separate strand of mus. in counterpoint or harmony, also known as ‘part’ or, more confusingly, ‘voice-part’ (e.g. a Mass for 5 voices is not a work for 5 singers but for 5 different vocal ranges, each of which could contain any number of singers). A fugue is in several vv. or parts, whether these are sung or played.

3.   As verb, meaning to adjust org.-pipe at construction stage so that it meets required standards of pitch, etc.

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voice, grammatical category according to which an action is referred to as done by the subject (active, e.g., men shoot bears) or to the subject (passive, e.g., bears are shot by men). In Latin, voice is a category of inflection like mood or tense. In ancient Greek, verbs were conjugated in three voices: active, passive, and middle (reflexive).

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voice sound(s) produced by the organs of utterance XIII; expressed will or choice, vote XIV; vocal capacity, as for singing XVII. — AN. voiz, voice, OF. vois, voiz (also mod. voix):- L. vōx, vōc-.
Hence voice vb. speak of, state XV; give utterance to XVII; endow with voice XVIII.

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voicebourgeois, Boyce, choice, Joyce, pro-choice, rejoice, Royce, voice