The Roles of Vowel Fronting, Lengthening, and Listener Variables in the Perception of Vocal Femininity Purpose The goal of this study was to test whether fronting and lengthening of lax vowels influence the perception of femininity in listeners whose dialect is characterized as already having relatively fronted and long lax vowels in male and female speech. Method Sixteen English words containing the /ɪ ... Research Article
Research Article  |   January 22, 2018
The Roles of Vowel Fronting, Lengthening, and Listener Variables in the Perception of Vocal Femininity
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Irina A. Shport
    Department of English, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
  • Disclosure: The author has declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The author has declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Portions of this work were presented at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation 43 in Chicago (2014).
    Portions of this work were presented at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation 43 in Chicago (2014).×
  • Correspondence to Irina A. Shport: ishport@lsu.edu
  • Editor-in-Chief: Frederick Gallun
    Editor-in-Chief: Frederick Gallun×
  • Associate Editor: Mitchell Sommers
    Associate Editor: Mitchell Sommers×
Article Information
Hearing / Research Articles
Research Article   |   January 22, 2018
The Roles of Vowel Fronting, Lengthening, and Listener Variables in the Perception of Vocal Femininity
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, January 2018, Vol. 61, 130-144. doi:10.1044/2017_JSLHR-H-16-0436
History: Received November 24, 2016 , Revised June 23, 2017 , Accepted August 15, 2017
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, January 2018, Vol. 61, 130-144. doi:10.1044/2017_JSLHR-H-16-0436
History: Received November 24, 2016; Revised June 23, 2017; Accepted August 15, 2017

Purpose The goal of this study was to test whether fronting and lengthening of lax vowels influence the perception of femininity in listeners whose dialect is characterized as already having relatively fronted and long lax vowels in male and female speech.

Method Sixteen English words containing the /ɪ ɛ ʊ ɑ/ vowels were produced by a male speaker with 2 degrees of vowel fronting. Then, the vowel duration was manipulated in 3 steps. Thirty-nine listeners from the Southern United States judged how feminine each word sounded to them on an interval scale.

Results The results of mixed-effects modeling showed that the words with more fronted and longer variants of the vowels were perceived as more feminine than the same words with less fronted and shorter variants of the vowels. These effects, however, were modulated by the vowel type, listener's area of upbringing, and gender.

Conclusions Fronting (except for /ʊ/) and lengthening of lax vowels make words sound more feminine for Southern listeners, which has implications for clients who wish to modify the perception of femininity invoked by their speech. The relative strength of the gender and regional associations of these vowel characteristics should be further examined across dialects.

Acknowledgments
This article is dedicated to two people. Brittany Courville (Jeream) was passionate about improving voice coaching for transgendered individuals; she created stimuli for this study and initiated the work. Lisi Oliver (1951–2015) was a generous and supportive colleague, a force of nature that inspired me by her own passion in research of the English law history. My gratitude is extended to Marybeth Lima and Greg Johnson for their thoughtful comments.
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