In the Beginning Was the Familiar Voice: Personally Familiar Voices in the Evolutionary and Contemporary Biology of Communication

Regular Article


The human voice is described in dialogic linguistics as an embodiment of self in a social context, contributing to expression, perception and mutual exchange of self, consciousness, inner life, and personhood. While these approaches are subjective and arise from phenomenological perspectives, scientific facts about personal vocal identity, and its role in biological development, support these views. It is our purpose to review studies of the biology of personal vocal identity—the familiar voice pattern—as providing an empirical foundation for the view that the human voice is an embodiment of self in the social context. Recent developments in the biology and evolution of communication are concordant with these notions, revealing that familiar voice recognition (also known as vocal identity recognition or individual vocal recognition) has contributed to survival in the earliest vocalizing species. Contemporary ethology documents the crucial role of familiar voices across animal species in signaling and perceiving internal states and personal identities. Neuropsychological studies of voice reveal multimodal cerebral associations arising across brain structures involved in memory, emotion, attention, and arousal in vocal perception and production, such that the voice represents the whole person. Although its roots are in evolutionary biology, human competence for processing layered social and personal meanings in the voice, as well as personal identity in a large repertory of familiar voice patterns, has achieved an immense sophistication.


Personal voice recognition Self and voice Neuropsychology of voice Evolutionary biology 



Preparation of this paper was supported in part by grant DC01797 and by R01 DC007658 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communicative Sciences and DisordersNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Division of GeriatricsNathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric ResearchOrangeburgUSA
  3. 3.Division of Head/Neck SurgeryUCLA School of MedicineLos AngelesUSA

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