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Old 02-06-2004, 03:10 PM
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Join Date: May 2000
Location: In the SPIFF Bunker
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What is it about an old person's voice that makes it sound old?

What is it about an old person's voice that makes it sound old? I mean,
I can almost always tell when I'm talking to an old person on the
telephone, purely by the sound of the caller's voice. And no, I'm not
tipped off by hearing "23 skidoo" or "in the good old days" a lot. And
because "old" voices can be either high or low pitched, it's not simply
the tone. Nor, as far as I can tell, is the tip-off a raspy voice. So,
Cecil, what is it about an old person's voice that tells us that the
speaker is over the hill?
"Immigrants! That's all they do, you know. Just driving around listening to the raps and shooting all the jobs."
Old 02-06-2004, 03:15 PM
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Well, the observant among you will see that I addressed Cecil by name in my question. That's because the question I posted above was cut and pasted from an e-mail message that I sent to Cecil about three minutes ago.

:: Spiff crosses fingers :: Here's hoping that Cecil answers it!
Old 02-06-2004, 03:16 PM
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: La Rive Ouest
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The vocal cords lose some elasticity with age, like most tissue. This can lead to varying degrees of creakiness in the voice.
Old 02-11-2004, 02:59 PM
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Originally Posted by bordelond
The vocal cords lose some elasticity with age, like most tissue. This can lead to varying degrees of creakiness in the voice.
O.K. Fair enough.

Your answer is fine as far as it goes, bordelond, but I'm looking at a deeper issue here (I think).

To wit, what is it about reduced-elastic vocal cords that give them a "creakiness" sound quality that we can sense with our ears/brain? Would the sound waves of an old person be saw-toothed waves or square waves when seen on an oscilliscope? (Implying that "young" voices would be more like smoother sine waves?)

The violin and other stringed instruments that are played with a bow produce square waves, IIRC. (Or maybe it's saw-toothed waves. I forget.) These instruments sound "creaky" too, at least to my ears. (Maybe Yo Yo Ma can play his cello in a non-creaky way, but everytime I hear cellos, etc. played with a bow, I hear creakiness.)

As I said in my OP, there's got to be some auditory cues inherent in an "old person's voice" that are constant, and our ears are able to recognize them. But what exactly are those cues? Is it the shape of the sound waves (sine, square, saw-toothed)? Or is it something else, or a combination of several things? That's at the heart of my question.
Old 02-11-2004, 03:45 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: The bunghole of WA
Posts: 12,333
Dentures, people, dentures. Specifically, full upper plates. That plate is harder than the roof of the mouth, and that affects the way the sound vibrates out of the mouth. Also, because the dentures have to fit over the person's gums, the space in the mouth is slightly decreased,, and that also affects the sound.

The fit of the dentures is also a factor. If the choppers are ill-fitting, the old person may develop a tendency to speak without opening their mouth very wide, in order to keep the teeth from falling out. Again, this affects the sound.

What I've noticed is that with the dentures in place, the voice takes on a hollow quality. Speaking with the dentures removed results in a flatter, more breathy voice.

Lung power may have a lot to do with the difference as well.
"I am an endless barrel of exposition!

But yeah, I'm done."
(El Goonish Shive)
Old 02-11-2004, 03:48 PM
Join Date: Feb 2001
Posts: 1,476
I've noticed many older people simply speak slower, and sometimes a bit louder... more deliberate; think Hank from "King of the Hill" (without the Texan drawl).
Old 02-12-2004, 04:30 PM
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Orlando, FL
Posts: 93
I think Phase42 has identified at least part of the reason -- lung power.

Try this experiment: Take a deep inhale and a full exhale, then before you inhale again try speaking a full sentence. (You may even run out of breath before completing your sentence.) You should get a result similar to quite a few oldsters -- no power to their breath.

This doesn't account for the "creakiness" you're describing, though.

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