Understanding Vocal Pitch Could Give Realistic Synthetic Voices to Those Unable to Speak.
We humans are the only primates that can flexibly control the pitch of our voices. This melodic control is not just important for our singing abilities: Fluctuating pitch also conveys critical information during speech – including the speaker’s mood, words of emphasis, or whether a sentence is a statement or a question. Some tonal languages, like Mandarin Chinese, even use pitch to give different meanings to otherwise identical words.
Now, new research by UC San Francisco scientists reveals what area of the human brain controls the vocal folds of the larynx, or voice box, to let us control the pitch of our speech. Insights into pitch control could pave the way for advanced brain prosthetics that could allow people who can’t speak to express themselves in a naturalistic way.