THIS IS THE VOICE by John Colapinto


This book was riveting, unexpectedly so. I found myself carrying it with me and reading anytime I had a few extra minutes. Colapinto writes with clarity and curiosity, with compassion, humor, and depth. This is a stunning, intelligent discourse on the voice and how its development has shaped us as a species, while we, as a species, have shaped it. Incredible.

Colapinto’s curiosity guides us from the first lungfish crawling out of the muck to the subtle nuance and power of our modern voice. And in between we are treated to an idea that seems at first outrageous and, in the end, obvious – that our vocal prowess has been a propulsive factor in our evolution, in leading us to the top of the food chain. This connection between voice and the evolution of our species was fascinating to me. Pondering how our bodies changed to fill a need, with our culture developing in tandem, just blew my little mind. He pays particular attention to the physical development of our vocal apparatus and how it changed the shape of our bodies – lengthening the neck, altering the size and shape of the mouth, etc.

I loved reading about the development of language, a relatively modern construction, alongside the development of language in an individual, beginning in the womb, absorbing the prosody of a mother’s voice. It is this prosody, this song-like quality of language that we first keen to.

And there is so much more! But I gotta stop somewhere. This book is incredibly well researched, backed with a number of scientific studies, some quite obscure, all quite captivating. Colapinto is a fabulous writer, skilled at shaping the story he is telling. Because his own boundless curiosity shines through what he writes, I couldn’t help but be dragged along with him. I loved this book!

7 comments on “THIS IS THE VOICE by John Colapinto”

  1. Well, heidi-ho, JNaz. I just recently finished reading “Breath Taking: the power, fragility and future of our extraordinary lungs” by Michael J. Stephen, and one of the fascinating sections was on the subject of the voice. It seems as though I must continue this exploration with “This is the Voice.” Our amazing, amazing bodies. I should post about “Breath Taking”–I’ve just become lazy about posting.

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    1. Oh yes, Teri. Yes. This is the Voice would be a perfect follow up to BreathTaking because, after all, this is where the voice begins. It begins with an expulsion of breath from the lungs. ❤

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  2. I was cleaning off my “desk” when I came across a scrap of paper on which I had scrawled a line from this book. It struck me, again, and I thought to share it here –

    “The mother’s voice is especially critical to this learning – a voice heard not only through airborne sound waves that penetrate the womb, but through bone conduction along her skeleton, so that her voice is felt as vibrations against the body.”

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  3. Once again, you have written a lovely review. My PT introduced me to Breath by James Nestor. I highly recommend the book. Nestor is a journalist who spent several years studying human breath/breathing. It’s a great read–full of science explained with a great deal of humor. I also recently discovered a book about the art of discerning voice in poetry which includes fun exercises on how to experiment with voice in one’s own writing: The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice by Tony Hoagland, I found Hoagland’s book both fun to read and very helpful. Together the books made me think about how both the mechanics of voice and the soul of voice are very much intertwined. Thanks for this conversation which moves me to continue to ponder the connections.

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  4. JNaz, I just finished listening to this book on Sunday. It covers a stunning amount of ground. Loved lots of things, including the way little ones learn language. And isn’t it fascinating that the larynx starts high in our throats to facilitate drinking and breathing at the same time, and then moves steadily downward as we move toward puberty?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Teri, yes to that “…stunning amount of ground.” I really love the way he walked us through the evolution of the voice. And those physical changes just blew my mind. So glad you got a chance to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

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