I speak in many tongues, but none so embarrassing as my lockdown voice

Coco Khan

Recently, an audio echo on a glitchy Zoom call soured the conversation. “Is that what I really sound like?” my friend asked.

“Afraid so,” I said.

“But I sound so…”

“Pipsqueak-ish? Like you’re 2ft tall? I know the feeling.”

Hearing your real voice can be a confronting experience. For me, it’s an occupational hazard. Every interview I’ve played back, I’ve had to hear my voice. And it turns out I have a few.

There’s “friend voice”, spoken in my native MLE (Multicultural London English), and which I tone down in my formal, generically southern “work voice”. Then there’s the “Auntie whisperer”, a style I slip into with Asian elders, mirroring their inflections.

But recently I have found myself speaking in something wholly new: my “lockdown voice”, a grossly embarrassing blend of the baby voice I use with my partner, MLE, and Gollum-inspired catchphrases from binge-watching Lord Of The Rings. (“Nasty little orangeses!” I once exclaimed at the sight of some bruised supermarket fruit.)

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Perhaps you have noticed it, too – a speaking style that reflects your smaller social circle. Science backs it up: accents develop during long periods of isolation, circumstances that seemed impossible in our hyper-connected age, until now.

Our accents, our vocal styles and tones are a palimpsest of history – adapting, but carrying an imprint of the past. I think of my future voices and wonder what new reality they will reflect: what friends and moments will be the influence?

As for my lockdown voice, as measures ease it’s likely to be deprived of the isolated time it needs to fully stick. I’m glad; I can’t see it endearing me to future interview subjects. But to be reminded of the history I carry in my voice? Well that really is precious.