~ English Blog Posts ~

Your Own Voice Doesn’t Exist (and that’s OK!)

31. juli 2012

I’m reading a lot these days about finding ones own voice, and I am quite intrigued by the idea. To express what you truly feel, in a way that’s unique to you, untainted by other people’s words and phrases and expressions. Freedom from cliches. Just you. All you.

It would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

The problem is that the concept itself is a cliché, and that if you truly were to accomplish this, it would completely undermine the concept of communication.

OK, I’ll back up a bit here to convey the whole message. A couple of millennia, actually, since we’ll have to go back to when language was invented by the first cave men (and women). I recently watched (most of) a documentary by the Swedish author Lasse Berg, called «The Nicest Primate on Earth». He’s presenting the hypothesis that we, the humans, evolved differently than the other primates because we were able to work together as a whole, to cooperate within the clan from the moment we began walking on two feet as opposed to four. You know, it’s a lot easier to bring home food to your friends and family instead of just grabbing and eating what you can, when you have hands to carry it with. This may have had a major impact on our evolution, and it must have stuck with us because there were obvious perks to this system.

And with this cooperative system in place, language started to develop. Needs had to be conveyed. Deals had to be made. Messages had to be delivered. This also, with all probability, means that tribal connections became crucial, as there is no way you’d survive out in the wilderness on your own, trying to fend for yourself instead of dividing the tasks among a group of people.

And as you know, language is based on codes. Those codes have to be mutually understandable for everyone, and if you’re into SEO, you know this: you can’t allow yourself to be too creative with your words, because you have to speak the language of the tribe you wish to attract – you have you use the words they are using, or else they won’t find you.

As with all the successful steps of our evolution, our brains became wired to enhance these features. It feels inherently good to cooperate, as long as it goes smoothly. It feels incredible to be able to communicate freely, when you know that your message is deeply understood, and you receive an adequate reply. This is actually an ages old reward system going off in your brain, on a chemical level.

Today, we don’t have to rely on tribes to survive. But we are still wired that way. We still have a deep need of belonging, coupled with an inner reward system when we achieve that connection. And it’s all good.

Joanna over at Minestrone Soul recently asked: Does you voice drift? and she also asks the following:

What makes us mimic the accent of someone we speak to on the phone? What makes our intonation mirror that of a friend in an animated conversation?

I think this is our day and age’s version of linguistic tribal connection. I think it signals that you are willing to and able to communicate and cooperate to reach a bigger goal that would serve your whole village. And when this is tied to marketing and reading other people’s blogs for inspiration, as is the case for most of the people out there searching for their own voice right now… that can only mean that a tribe is forming.

That tribe will work towards a bigger goal, with their particular dialect as a hallmark and as a marker for identity, making it easier for them to communicate and keep building, keep working, keep manifesting, through their language.

Without that language, the tribe members would struggle. First of all, they may not even be able to find each other (ref. SEO), their bonds may not become as strong, as the communication would suffer. The codes wouldn’t be as obvious, and messages may become partly lost in translation.

The language you use, the terms, the phrases, the words and your tone, are markers for identity. They tell a story about who you are and who you are influenced by. And you cannot escape that fact. Finding your own, true voice is futile, because it doesn’t exist. Your tribe dialect does.

It’s almost like trying to write a novel about something completely new. It just cannot be done, everything is said before by someone. But as a student of literature, the most fun and rewarding thing I ever did, was go look for the intertextuality of whatever I was reading. What was the author influenced by? Which other works could be found traces in this particular novel? And what does it do to the reader response when these are uncovered? That opened up a whole new world of understanding and joy to me, and while this previously was  frowned upon by the critics (originality, you know!), it’s now gaining some acceptance.

And I think this is the case in oral communication as well. Your voice has been influenced by people ever since you were able to speak; that is the whole point of having a voice. If you did find you own voice (which is impossible because then it wouldn’t be a voice), it would be the equivalent of making up a language that you were the only one who spoke. Quite pointless, no? Unless you just like to make funny sounds, that is. 🙂

What you do need to be aware of, though, are the feelings and the intentions behind your voice. Are they yours? Never mind the means of expression, but look at the underlying need behind them. Are you voicing your true needs? Are you standing up for what you believe in? Are you expressing your own truth, or are you trying to cooperate with the wrong kind of tribe? That’s where you potentially can run into trouble and feel like you’re losing your identity.

But other than that… Relish in your multilingual voice, appreciate the patchwork of tribes and people who have influenced it through the years, and rejoice in your ability to letting your voice drift to best suit the situation. It’s really a communicational skill, maybe even one which will lead to a(nother) wonderful and positive change in the world, and not a sign of weakness.

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  1. Such an interesting and refreshing take, Nienna, and a much more thorough exploration of the topic than mine, thank you! I think you have drilled right to the heart of what it means to belong and I love this: «Relish in your multilingual voice, appreciate the patchwork of tribes and people who have influenced it through the years, and rejoice in your ability to letting your voice drift to best suit the situation. It’s really a communicational skill, maybe even one which will lead to a(nother) wonderful and positive change in the world, and not a sign of weakness.»

    I think what I was trying to say is that when it feels fake, it probably is. I see it as a chasm you’re trying to leap (perhaps into a different tribe) when a word or phrase feels fake, and it usually means you’re using it to ‘fit in’ when the fit doesn’t really exist.

    The growth of one’s own, and common language is indeed organic, and that is the beauty of it. And yes, it’s wonderful when phrases and terms become adopted right into the heart of a community. That’s when they also start to feel like just another entry in a personal lexicon – if indeed the tribe is right to begin with.

    It’s really interesting to read about language and how we are all born with an innate grammar, and the ability to form our own language. Reading about creoles and experiences with the deaf children of hearing parents has really opened my eyes. Steven Pinker’s book ‘The Language Instinct’ is brilliant – I’m half way through it.

    1. Thank you, Jo. Never meant to diss you or your post, though, I just kinda get a bit excited over the topic of language, it’s so interesting! 🙂

      Oh and absolutely – if it feels fake, it probably is. I find myself in that situation sometimes, like when an old friend starts talking to me like she still knows exactly who I am, while I have changed in so many ways since we grew up together and she hasn’t been able to track the development in any way. And then you just find yourself playing the part, in a way, in order to keep the conversation moving. It doesn’t feel right at all. But I think that, as long as you know what you’re really doing and keep from falling for your own acting (which can be insanely hard sometimes, because you DO regress, just a little, every time – everything you think, speak and hear will ultimately change you in one way or the other), you’ll be alright in the end anyway, if you don’t want to put the energy in reintroducing yourself instead. Which takes a LOT of time and energy sometimes, as old friends and family tend to insist on keeping you where they are…

      And thank you for the link, I’ll check it out! 🙂

  2. Such an interesting and refreshing take, Nienna, and a much more thorough exploration of the topic than mine, thank you! I think you have drilled right to the heart of what it means to belong and I love this: «Relish in your multilingual voice, appreciate the patchwork of tribes and people who have influenced it through the years, and rejoice in your ability to letting your voice drift to best suit the situation. It’s really a communicational skill, maybe even one which will lead to a(nother) wonderful and positive change in the world, and not a sign of weakness.»

    I think what I was trying to say is that when it feels fake, it probably is. I see it as a chasm you’re trying to leap (perhaps into a different tribe) when a word or phrase feels fake, and it usually means you’re using it to ‘fit in’ when the fit doesn’t really exist.

    The growth of one’s own, and common language is indeed organic, and that is the beauty of it. And yes, it’s wonderful when phrases and terms become adopted right into the heart of a community. That’s when they also start to feel like just another entry in a personal lexicon – if indeed the tribe is right to begin with.

    It’s really interesting to read about language and how we are all born with an innate grammar, and the ability to form our own language. Reading about creoles and experiences with the deaf children of hearing parents has really opened my eyes. Steven Pinker’s book ‘The Language Instinct’ is brilliant – I’m half way through it.

    1. Thank you, Jo. Never meant to diss you or your post, though, I just kinda get a bit excited over the topic of language, it’s so interesting! 🙂

      Oh and absolutely – if it feels fake, it probably is. I find myself in that situation sometimes, like when an old friend starts talking to me like she still knows exactly who I am, while I have changed in so many ways since we grew up together and she hasn’t been able to track the development in any way. And then you just find yourself playing the part, in a way, in order to keep the conversation moving. It doesn’t feel right at all. But I think that, as long as you know what you’re really doing and keep from falling for your own acting (which can be insanely hard sometimes, because you DO regress, just a little, every time – everything you think, speak and hear will ultimately change you in one way or the other), you’ll be alright in the end anyway, if you don’t want to put the energy in reintroducing yourself instead. Which takes a LOT of time and energy sometimes, as old friends and family tend to insist on keeping you where they are…

      And thank you for the link, I’ll check it out! 🙂

  3. Really Thought provoking article , speaking is only 7% of all communication so tone , expression and body language play a bigger part in what we are saying. Energetically we can pick up from others if they are being authentic or not. Being in a tribe we tend to adopt the language , gestures and wording etc. Your post has made me think of how my mother in law and I communicate as she’s Indian so her English isn’t so great and my hindi goes as far as thank you , bless you and can i have a cup of chai yet we’ve developed our own communication through giggles , eye movements and general gibberish . We as humans always adapt to those around us. Having your voice I believe comes from our level of self esteem .
    You write so beautifully Nienna what a gift you have.

  4. Really Thought provoking article , speaking is only 7% of all communication so tone , expression and body language play a bigger part in what we are saying. Energetically we can pick up from others if they are being authentic or not. Being in a tribe we tend to adopt the language , gestures and wording etc. Your post has made me think of how my mother in law and I communicate as she’s Indian so her English isn’t so great and my hindi goes as far as thank you , bless you and can i have a cup of chai yet we’ve developed our own communication through giggles , eye movements and general gibberish . We as humans always adapt to those around us. Having your voice I believe comes from our level of self esteem .
    You write so beautifully Nienna what a gift you have.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this topic, too, and how it’s somewhat frustrating to not find my own voice. But you’re absolutely right…it’s impossible! We are patchworks of everyone who has come before us – it’s just how we use the voice that is unique to who we are. Thank you for writing about this. Tres interesting!

  6. I’ve been thinking about this topic, too, and how it’s somewhat frustrating to not find my own voice. But you’re absolutely right…it’s impossible! We are patchworks of everyone who has come before us – it’s just how we use the voice that is unique to who we are. Thank you for writing about this. Tres interesting!

  7. What makes us mimic the accent of someone we speak to on the phone? What makes our intonation mirror that of a friend in an animated conversation?

    I hadn’t actually seen this post, Nienna, so first off, thank you for pointing it out to me!

    Secondly… ZOMG – I thought I was the only one who did this! I call myself an «accent chameleon» (or sometimes an «accent sponge») – basically, if I spend enough time around someone, I’ll start absorbing some of their characteristic terms, speech cadence and accent – and I *swear* I’m not doing it deliberately.

    It’s quite reassuring to discover that other people do it too!

    Blessings

    TANJA

  8. What makes us mimic the accent of someone we speak to on the phone? What makes our intonation mirror that of a friend in an animated conversation?

    I hadn’t actually seen this post, Nienna, so first off, thank you for pointing it out to me!

    Secondly… ZOMG – I thought I was the only one who did this! I call myself an «accent chameleon» (or sometimes an «accent sponge») – basically, if I spend enough time around someone, I’ll start absorbing some of their characteristic terms, speech cadence and accent – and I *swear* I’m not doing it deliberately.

    It’s quite reassuring to discover that other people do it too!

    Blessings

    TANJA

  9. Hi Nienna,

    This is the first time I am reading your blog and I have to say that this post is timely for me. I have just launched my own blog/website heartledwoman. I am in the processes of finding «my own voice», which to me means finding out how to have a cohesive message amidst all of those voices (and interests and ideas) that influence me.

    Also, as a mother I am watching my nearly three-year-old twins practices my intonations and terminologies…for better or for worse.

    Interesting, thought provoking stuff.

    Thank you!

    Crystal

  10. Hi Nienna,

    This is the first time I am reading your blog and I have to say that this post is timely for me. I have just launched my own blog/website heartledwoman. I am in the processes of finding «my own voice», which to me means finding out how to have a cohesive message amidst all of those voices (and interests and ideas) that influence me.

    Also, as a mother I am watching my nearly three-year-old twins practices my intonations and terminologies…for better or for worse.

    Interesting, thought provoking stuff.

    Thank you!

    Crystal

  11. Ooh, Nienna, what a beautiful point and how interesting! I love how you just completely lifted any pressure I felt to find my unique voice – it’s a pressure that I feel quite often. Next time I write a post, instead of worrying about my unique ‘voice’, I will think about my unique intentions. Thank you!

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