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Decoding Lewinsky's Voice

While everyone had known what former White House intern Monica Lewinsky said to her former friend, Linda Tripp, no one had heard her voice - until Tuesday. CBS This Morning Senior Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports on what linguists heard in the newly-released audio tapes of Lewinsky being secretly recorded by Tripp, who sparked the investigation into the young woman's affair with President Clinton.

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For months, Lewinsky, whose image has become part of the landscape of our daily lives, had no voice.

Certain voices are unforgettable, as indicative of the speaker's character as their face.

The late film star Marilyn Monroe had a hushed, almost innocent-sounding voice, while actress Lauren Bacall has an omniscient, smoky timbre. In the musical, My Fair Lady a poor flower girl named Eliza Doolittle is transformed into a great lady with the help of an intense language expert.

To linguistics professor John Roy, a voice tells all.


John Ray (CBS)

"A person's voice encodes their first experience with language," Roy says. "All of the socialization experiences that they had growing up, becoming a teen and an adult."

Indeed, experts in listening to the human voice could tell quite a bit about Lewinsky from hearing her speak.

"I don't know why I have these feelings for him," Lewinsky tells Tripp. "Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I don't really have these feelings. Maybe I'm pretending, I don't know."

N.G. Berrill, a forensic psychologist, says Lewinsky is "someone who comes across as an adolescent, naïve, but genuine and hurt and confused about what to do."

Roy's assessment is similar.

"This is not the voice of someone entrapping the president," he says. "This was a voice of a real young woman."

To both, it was clear that Lewinsky never suspected her confidante.

"Certainly Monica trusts Linda," Roy says. "She wouldn't be talking so rapidly with the clear expectation that she's understood."

There are two people captured on tape. Two characters revealed by their voices.

Linguist Deborah Tannen, author of The Argument Culture, says the recorded telephone conversation gives liteners the feeling of eavesdropping.


Deborah Tannen (CBS)

"It draws you in. You feel you could be that woman talking to your friend, trusting her," Tannen told CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen.

The person taping the conversation reveals as much about herself as the person being taped. The methods the experts used to analyze voices amounts to deconstructing what most of us hear instinctively -- cues and cadences that reveal whether someone is being sincere.

"I think people will walk away looking at Linda Tripp as really a Judas, as someone who stabbed her friend in the back, who attempted to entrap her and all the while listening to this woman pouring her heart out was conspiring to hurt her and do her in," says Berrill.

What might be the public's overall reaction to the tapes?

"I think the overwhelming feeling is going to be a revulsion of the fact they were made public, the breaking down of a barrier between the public and the private, that people are feeling shaken by," Tannen says.

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