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Human Voice Recognition Depends on Language Ability

Science  29 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6042, pp. 595
DOI: 10.1126/science.1207327

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Abstract

The ability to recognize people by their voice is an important social behavior. Individuals differ in how they pronounce words, and listeners may take advantage of language-specific knowledge of speech phonology to facilitate recognizing voices. Impaired phonological processing is characteristic of dyslexia and thought to be a basis for difficulty in learning to read. We tested voice-recognition abilities of dyslexic and control listeners for voices speaking listeners’ native language or an unfamiliar language. Individuals with dyslexia exhibited impaired voice-recognition abilities compared with controls only for voices speaking their native language. These results demonstrate the importance of linguistic representations for voice recognition. Humans appear to identify voices by making comparisons between talkers’ pronunciations of words and listeners’ stored abstract representations of the sounds in those words.

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