View Full Version : To Scuba Divers and Other Ocean Swimmers

07-17-2008, 01:14 AM
All right, so after receiving a number of comments by people reading my opening chapters saying, "Are you sure this is right?" I figure I should ask some experts.

My question involves talking underwater. Is it possible? From my understanding, speech underwater is muffled and distorted, but not completely indecipherable. In addition, because of the lack of air, most of our hearing underwater is due to bone vibrations, much like how it sounds if you speak while holding your ears shut.

In my book, the character is capable of breathing underwater like a fish (it's a fantasy novel, so just go with "it's magic" for now.) In the first scene, she is exploring a sunken ship, and over the course of the scene, she does the following:

1. Mutters to herself
2. Talks to herself
3. Screams
4. Opens a magical door by imitating someone else's voice

The fourth one is obviously the most controversial, because it relies on something actually understanding what she's saying. But the magic on such doors is notoriously inaccurate, and easily bypassed by someone good at imitating voices. During the scene, I use the following description:


She put her ear to the door, where the keyhole would be, and hoped she was lucky for once in her life. Firmly, she said, “Unlock.” A mild tick emanated from the door.

She grinned. Voice activation – the simplest and least accurate of weaves. For someone trained in impersonation, like her, the lock wouldn’t be much of an obstacle. Even underwater, with her voice muffled and distorted, she could break in via trial and error. She said ‘unlock’ again, in a different tone, and heard another tick. She continued to repeat herself, changing the inflection of her voice and listening to the door’s noises.


Minutes later, she imitated the voice of a man with a nasal tone, and the door responded with a satisfied ‘click’. She let out a triumphant laugh and turned the handle...


So would this work? If not, is there any way she could get it to work? I had one person recommend having her put a glass tube to the door and sucking the air out so she was speaking in a small 'pocket' of air, but it seems unlikely that she would have such a tool readily available, much less be capable of sucking the water out considering she's swimming in the ocean.

Thanks to anyone who can provide help from personal experience with the water.

Maui Author
07-17-2008, 02:22 AM
Welcome to AW!

I frequently scubadive, but we never talk cause of the regulator in our mouths. However, we can easily hear any type of noise such as boats overhead, noise rattlers, beeping, etc.

As for swimming, I think with water in the mouth, no sound would come out, but I'm not sure.

However, since your book is fantasy anyways (breathing underwater), I think your character be able to talk as well with no problem.

07-17-2008, 03:14 AM
Thanks for the welcome!

I've actually been lurking for a while, just didn't have the need to post anything. ;)

07-17-2008, 03:23 AM
I've been a certified diver for over thirty years.

Sound travels very well underwater. That's why dolphins are so adept at echo location. Likewise whale song travels for miles at extremely low frequencies.

Now then, an 'air breathing' mamal like a whale or dolphin generates a series of tones, whistles and 'clicks' by vibrations within their bodies. The human equivelent of that would be humming. One can certainly 'hum' underwater. One can even remove a regulator and 'speak' words - but since the CONSONANTS of speech rely on the sound of the tongue against the lips, teeth and palate, these sounds are muffled/covered/distorted by the sound of the bubbles escaping from your mouth.

"Hello, my name is Tom" would NOT sound the same if spoken underwater by a human who normally speaks in the air. The VOWELS would be rather distinct, but the consonants would be lost.

Pretty simple to check. Fill you bathtub - stick your head underwater and say your name. What you hear is what you get.

Now then, your 'creature' lives underwater, and communicates... how? Through echo location? Some sort of whistles/clicks/hums? Think of the character MADISON the mermaid from SPLASH. When she tells Tom Hanks her name - its the screeching clicking noise.

IF your character has to emulate 'airborne speak' - its not going to happen. IF she is 'breathing' water, and she is of a 'humanoid' form - that is, has lips, and a tongue - then I suppose she could 'replicate' human speach if she is forcing water through her 'voicebox' ? Can she survive on land in the air? Maybe she has a unique characteristic - a voicebox that can emulate the frequency of air sounds underwater?

Hey, its your world.

07-17-2008, 06:21 AM
Thank you for the detailed response. The character is actually semi-human in nature, and is only breathing underwater due to magic, more or less. From your description, saying, "Unlock" underwater would sound more like, "Uh-Ahh", which isn't really acceptable. I guess I'll have to provide her with another way of opening the door.

07-20-2008, 05:44 AM
For what it's worth, this article made me think of your thread.