Gender variation in voice quality

Author: Monique Biemans
LOT Number: 038
ISBN: 90-76864-04-7
Pages: 210
Year: 2000
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The research described in this thesis focuses on the relationship between voice
quality and gender. Gender comprehends both biological and social gender. That
is, both the female/male difference and the sociocultural difference between
femininity and masculinity are considered with regard to the voice. Voice quality
refers to characteristics such as whisperiness, harshness, nasality, pitch, and
loudness.

Firstly, it was assessed to what extent gender is expressed in the voice. To that end,
interactions were recorded between 57 pairs of speakers. Their voice quality was
described acoustically and perceptually, by trained and untrained listeners. The
speakers’ voices appeared to be related mainly to their biological gender, whereas
they showed virtually no relation to their feminine and masculine characteristics.

Secondly, it was examined how specific voice quality characteristics are perceived
by listeners in terms of social gender. An experiment was conducted in which
listeners were asked to attribute gender-relevant personality traits to speakers on
the basis of their voice. ‘Natural’ fragments from the original recordings as well as
fragments with manipulated pitch and tempo were used. Listeners reacted most
strongly to pitch, tempo, loudness, and harshness. Female and male speakers were
judged stereotypically.

This study shows which aspects of gender (biological or social) play a role at what
point in the communication process (speech production or perception). The study
is of interest to phoneticians and sociolinguists, as well as researchers working in
the field of gender studies.

The research described in this thesis focuses on the relationship between voice
quality and gender. Gender comprehends both biological and social gender. That
is, both the female/male difference and the sociocultural difference between
femininity and masculinity are considered with regard to the voice. Voice quality
refers to characteristics such as whisperiness, harshness, nasality, pitch, and
loudness.

Firstly, it was assessed to what extent gender is expressed in the voice. To that end,
interactions were recorded between 57 pairs of speakers. Their voice quality was
described acoustically and perceptually, by trained and untrained listeners. The
speakers’ voices appeared to be related mainly to their biological gender, whereas
they showed virtually no relation to their feminine and masculine characteristics.

Secondly, it was examined how specific voice quality characteristics are perceived
by listeners in terms of social gender. An experiment was conducted in which
listeners were asked to attribute gender-relevant personality traits to speakers on
the basis of their voice. ‘Natural’ fragments from the original recordings as well as
fragments with manipulated pitch and tempo were used. Listeners reacted most
strongly to pitch, tempo, loudness, and harshness. Female and male speakers were
judged stereotypically.

This study shows which aspects of gender (biological or social) play a role at what
point in the communication process (speech production or perception). The study
is of interest to phoneticians and sociolinguists, as well as researchers working in
the field of gender studies.

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