Newswise WASHINGTON November 2021 — Researchers are particularly interested in the perception of gender in children’s voices. Young boys and girls have very similar voices before puberty. Gender identification is easy because adult male and female voices can often sound very different.
Gender perception in children is more difficult because of gender differences in speech. Listeners might need to consider the speaker’s age when determining speaker gender. This is because gender perception may be affected by acoustic information that is not directly related to anatomical differences among boys and girls.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Texas at Dallas have created a database of speech samples taken from children aged 5 to 18. This data will help answer two questions: What kinds of changes in voices occur as children grow up, and how can listeners adapt to the huge variation in acoustic patterns among speakers?
Listeners determine a speaker’s gender and age based on their voice pitch and the resonance (formant frequencies).
“Resonance refers to speaker height — think cello versus violin — and is an reliable indicator of overall body weight,” Santiago Barreda from the University of California at Davis said. “In addition to these cues, there are subtle cues that relate to behavior and how a person ‘chooses to’ speak. They do not depend on speaker anatomy. “
Gender identification was improved when listeners were presented with sentences from different speakers by Peter Assmann and Barreda from the University of Texas at Dallas. This supports the stylistic elements in speech that emphasize gender differences and make sentences more interesting, they said.
They also discovered two important facts. Listeners can identify the gender of children as young at 5 years old.
” This is before there are anatomical differences among speakers, and before there can be any reliable differences in pitch and resonance.” said Barreda. We conclude that if a child can be identified as their gender, it is due to differences in their speech patterns and behavior rather than their anatomy. “
Second, the researchers found that identification of the gender of speakers must be done in conjunction with identification of their age and likely physical sizes.
“Essentially, there is too much uncertainty in the speech signal to treat age, gender, and size as independent decisions,” he said. “One way to resolve this is to consider, for example, what do 11-year-old boys sound like, rather than what do males sound like and what do 11-year-olds sound like, as if these were independent questions. Their research suggests that “perceptions of gender can be influenced by subtle cues based primarily on behavior, not anatomy.” In other words, gender information in speech could be more influenced by performance than physical differences between male speakers and female speakers. Gendered speech would not be able to identify the gender of little boys and girls if it was based on speaker anatomy. “
The performative nature and gender of gender has been long argued theoretically. These experimental results support that view.
The article “Perception of gender in children’s voices” is authored by Santiago Barreda and Peter Assmann. It will appear in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America on Nov. 23, 2021 (DOI: 10.1121/10.0006785). After that date, it can be accessed at https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1121/10.0006785.
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The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA) is published on behalf of the Acoustical Society of America. The journal has been the premier source for theoretical and experimental research results in the wide-ranging interdisciplinary field of sound since 1929,. JASA serves life scientists, engineers and psychologists as well as musicians and speech communication specialists. See https://asa.scitation.org/journal/jas.
ABOUT ACOUSTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA
The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the world’s most prestigious journal on acoustics, JASA Express Letters and Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics. Acoustics Today magazine, books and standards on acoustics are also available. Two major scientific meetings are held each year by the society. See https://acousticalsociety.org/.