The way people pronounce their “s” sounds and the amount of resonance they use when speaking play a larger role in the perception of gender than previously thought, according to Lal Zimman (PhDLing’12), whose findings are based on his doctoral research in CU-Boulder’s linguistics department.
“In the past, gender differences in the voice have been understood primarily as a biological difference,” Zimman says. “I wanted to look at the potential for other factors, other than how testosterone lowers the voice, that affect how a person’s voice is perceived.”
Zimman’s research included recording 15 transgendered men [females transitioning to males] and using software to determine the audio frequency of their “s” sounds. Zimman then digitally manipulated the voices to pinpoint how low each individual’s voice needed to be before a group of listeners identified the subject as male.
Zimman found that a voice can still be perceived as male even with a high pitch depending on how the participants pronounced their “s” sounds.