Colorado Research in Linguistics
Colorado Research in Linguistics -- ISSN 1937-7029

Vol 23.1 2012

Voices in Transition: Testosterone, Transmasculinity, and the Gendered Voice among Female-to-Male Transgender People

Lal Zimman 

PhD Thesis
Dr. Kira Hall, advisor

This dissertation is based on a long-term ethnographic and sociophonetic study of 15 transgender people on the female-to-male (or transmasculine) identity spectrum. The focus of the study is the way these individualsí voices change during the first 1-2 years of masculinizing hormone therapy, which brings about a drop in vocal pitch along with other salient physiological changes. Based on regular recordings of participants during a one year period, the analysis tracks changes in fundamental frequency as well as formant frequencies and the acoustic characteristics of [s], each of which has a different place in biology-driven theories of gender and the voice. In addition to ostensibly hormonally driven changes to speakersí available fundamental frequency range, I present evidence that these speakers are engaged in various types of articulatory shifts as part of their gender role transition, which affect both formants and [s]. However, I argue that changes in all three of the phonetic domains examined here must be situated in both sociocultural and linguistic context, even where biology appears to play a significant role. The analyses presented, which include attention to both intra- and inter-speaker variation, draw on a multilayered understanding of gender derived from transgender peopleís own distinctions between gender assignment, gender role, gender identity, and gender presentation. My speakersí metalinguistic commentary on gender and the voice further elucidates the constellations of phonetic features that combine to create their cohesive gendered speaking styles. Ultimately, I focus on the ways that changes in one phonetic variable, like pitch, can recontextualize other elements of a speakerís linguistic style, like the acoustic spectrum of [s]. This connection drives home the necessity of considering the relationship between linguistic characteristics, rather than treating them as entirely separable variables. Attention to stylistic wholes, over individual variables, points us toward the notion that transmasculine individuals do not engage in across-the-board masculinization, but rather bring together acoustic characteristics acquired from disparate sources in order to construct phonetic styles that reflect their complex affiliations with manhood, maleness, and masculinity.

Lal Zimman can be reached at: Zimman@Colorado.EDU.

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Colorado Research in Linguistics is the working papers journal of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado.

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