Breathiness as a Feminine Voice Characteristic: A Perceptual Approach
ABSTRACT The present study tested suggestions in the literature that vocal breathiness may influence the perception of femininity of the speaker. Two listener experiments were conducted using normal and breathy voice productions by normal females. Panels of students rated femininity of samples from seven biological female speakers, each producing a normal /a/ and a breathy /a/ at similar pitch and intensity. Two listening experiments were enacted. In experiment 1, the 14 samples were presented at random to the judges as if they were from different speakers. Judges rated feminity on a five-point rating scale with 1 (little feminine) and 5 (very feminine) as left and right extremes, respectively. In experiment 2, the normal and breathy samples of each of the seven speakers were presented pair wise and judges were required to indicate which of the two in their opinion sounded most feminine. In all seven participants, the breathy voice samples were judged to be more feminine than the natural voice samples. This was the case when the breathy and natural samples were presented randomly in experiment 1 and when the samples of each speaker were presented pair wise in experiment 2. Results demonstrate that breathiness indeed may contribute to the perception of femininity but replication in a study involving biological males and transgender clients is indicated. It is unclear which degree of breathiness is required or is the most suitable for facilitating the perception of femininity.
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ABSTRACT: In normal hearing (NH), the perception of the gender of a speaker is strongly affected by two anatomically related vocal characteristics: the fundamental frequency (F0), related to vocal pitch, and the vocal tract length (VTL), related to the height of the speaker. Previous studies on gender categorization in cochlear implant (CI) users found that performance was variable, with few CI users performing at the level of NH listeners. Data collected with recorded speech produced by multiple talkers suggests that CI users might rely more on F0 and less on VTL than NH listeners. However, because VTL cannot be accurately estimated from recordings, it is difficult to know how VTL contributes to gender categorization. In the present study, speech was synthesized to systematically vary F0, VTL, or both. Gender categorization was measured in CI users, as well as in NH participants listening to unprocessed (only synthesized) and vocoded (and synthesized) speech. Perceptual weights for F0 and VTL were derived from the performance data. With unprocessed speech, NH listeners used both cues (normalized perceptual weight: F0 = 3.76, VTL = 5.56). With vocoded speech, NH listeners still made use of both cues but less efficiently (normalized perceptual weight: F0 = 1.68, VTL = 0.63). CI users relied almost exclusively on F0 while VTL perception was profoundly impaired (normalized perceptual weight: F0 = 6.88, VTL = 0.59). As a result, CI users' gender categorization was abnormal compared to NH listeners. Future CI signal processing should aim to improve the transmission of both F0 cues and VTL cues, as a normal gender categorization may benefit speech understanding in competing talker situations.Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology 08/2014; 15(6). DOI:10.1007/s10162-014-0483-7 · 2.55 Impact Factor