Definition of Voice in Phonetics and Phonology

A rear-view illustration of the glottis, the space created by opening and closing the vocal chords: on the left, the vocal folds are open, and on the right, the vocal folds are closed

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In phonetics and phonology, voice refers to the speech sounds produced by the vocal folds (also known as the vocal cords). Also known as voicing.

  • Voice quality refers to the characteristic features of an individual's voice.
  • Voice range (or vocal range) refers to the range of frequency or pitch used by a speaker.


From the Latin "call."

Examples and Observations

  • John Laver
    [O]ur social interaction through speech depends on much more than solely the linguistic nature of the spoken messages exchanged. The voice is the very emblem of the speaker, indelibly woven into the fabric of speech. In this sense, each of our utterances of spoken language carries not only its own message, but through accent, tone of voice and habitual voice quality it is at the same time an audible declaration of our membership [in] particular social and regional groups, of our individual physical and psychological identity, and of our momentary mood.

The Speech Mechanism

  • Beverly Collins
    The overwhelming majority of sounds found in human speech are produced by an egressive pulmonic airstream, i.e. an outgoing stream of air produced by the lungs contracting (partially collapsing inwards) and thus pushing the air contained within them outwards. This airstream then passes through the larynx (known familiarly as the 'Adam's apple') and along a tube of the complex shape formed by the mouth and nose (termed the vocal tract). A variety of muscles interact to produce changes in the configuration of the vocal tract so as to allow parts of the speech organs to come into contact (or near contact) with other parts, i.e. to articulate. Phoneticians term these anatomical bits and pieces the articulators--hence the term for the branch of science known as articulatory phonetics...
    The vocal folds (also called the vocal cords) vibrate very rapidly when an airstream is allowed to pass between them, producing what is termed voice--that is, a sort of buzz which one can hear and feel in vowels and in some consonant sounds.


  • Peter Roach
    If the vocal folds vibrate we will hear the sound that we call voicing or phonation. There are many different sorts of voicing that we can produce--think of the differences in the quality of your voice between singing, shouting, and speaking quietly, or think of the different voices you might use reading a story to young children in which you have to read out what is said by characters such as giants, fairies, mice or ducks; many of the differences are made with the larynx. We can make changes in the vocal folds themselves--they can, for example, be made longer or shorter, more tense or more relaxed or be more or less strongly pressed together. The pressure of the air below the vocal folds (the subglottal pressure) can also be varied [in intensity, frequency, and quality].

The Difference Between Voiced and Voiceless Sounds

  • Thomas P. Klammer
    To feel the difference between voiced and voiceless sounds for yourself, place your fingers on your Adam's apple and produce first the sound of /f/. Sustain that sound for a few seconds. Now quickly switch to the sound of /v/. You should be able to feel very clearly the vibration that accompanies the sound of /v/, which is voiced, in contrast to the absence of such vibration with /f/, which is voiceless. Voicing is the result of moving air causing the vocal folds (or vocal cords) to vibrate within the larynx behind the cartilage of the Adam's apple. This vibration, your voice, is what you feel and hear when you sustain the sound of /v/.


  • Collins, Beverley, and Inger M. Mees. Practical Phonetics and Phonology: a Resource Book for Students. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2013.
  • Klammer, Thomas P., et al. Analyzing English Grammar. Pearson, 2007.
  • Laver, John. Principles of Phonetics. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Roach, Peter. English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course. 4th ed., Cambridge University Press, 2009.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition of Voice in Phonetics and Phonology." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Definition of Voice in Phonetics and Phonology. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition of Voice in Phonetics and Phonology." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).