SRPP: Gender, femininity and the voice

Melanie Weirich (Friedrich-Schiller University, Jena)
18 February 2022, 14h0015h30

Fine phonetic detail carries social information. Intra- and interindividual variation in speech patterns is a source of information used to index and infer numerous facets of a speaker’s social characteristics (e.g., age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personality characteristics). In my talk, I will focus on phonetic cues of femininity/masculinity used in production and perception. What does a voice make sound feminine? Can listeners infer the level of self-ascribed femininity of a speaker from his/her voice? Results from our study with German participants combining perceived and self-rated femininity ratings point to a common ground between speakers and listeners in which they negotiate the social space of gender through speech. One reason suggested to explain this finding is that voice characteristics indicate the underlying hormone quality (e.g. testosterone level) of a speaker and thus are relevant within mating context. The role of hormones as a source of variation in fine phonetic detail is discussed by looking at the relationship between pregnancy and voice and by giving insights into an ongoing project investigating hormone levels, intra- and interindividual variation and perceived attractiveness.

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