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Explaining gay-sounding voices: Trends, insights, and future directions

Presentation for the Ling Circle colloquium series organized by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. March 16, 2011.

Lal Zimman

on 18 March 2011

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Transcript of Explaining gay-sounding voices: Trends, insights, and future directions

Our plan Trends: Review of previous studies of gay-sounding voices and problems that have emerged in this area of study.
Insights: How trans speakers can shed light on these problems.
Future directions: How can we build on the growing canon of studies on gay-sounding voices? Explaining gay-sounding voices: Trends, insights, and future directions Lal Zimman
Ling Circle
March 16, 2011 Insights Future directions Trends Why do some male speakers of American English "sound gay"? Acoustic explanations this is an acoustic question and a social question You'd think, with all the literature, that we'd be able to answer this with some confidence... but the overall trend is contradiction. Social explanations The Gay Identity Model Gaudio (1994) Do gay men use more dynamic intonation than straight men?
Wants to warn us that gay masculinity is not the same as (straight) femininity.
But he wants to figure out how gay identity is indexed.
Warns us against using the 1st order metapragmatic system, prefers the 2nd, but doesn't pay as much attention to the relationship between them. Gaudio 1994; Crist 1997; Linville 1998; Jacobs, Rogers & Smyth 2000; Podesva et al. 2001; Pierrehumbert et al. 2004; Munson et al. 2006, 2007; Levon 2006, 2007; Campbell-Kibler 2007; Podesva 2007; Piccolo 2008; Zimman 2010, ms. Pitch Mean F0 Pitch range or variability Gaudio 1994
Linville 1998
Jacobs et al. 2000
Munson 2007
Zimman 2010, ms. Munson et al 2006 Y N Y N Gaudio 1994
Levon 2007 Gaudio 1994
Levon 2006, 2007
Jacobs et al. 2000
Zimman 2010, ms. Consonants Voice quality Vowels Stops Sibilants VOT release Duration Peak frequency Center of gravity Skew Linville 1998
Jacobs et al. 2000 Y Levon 2006, 2007
Zimman 2010 N Linville 1998
Jacobs et al. 2000 Y Zimman 2010 N Zimman 2010 Y Zimman 2010, ms.
Munson et al. 2006 N Munson et al. 2006
Munson 2007
Zimman 2010, ms. Y Ø N Vowel duration Vowel dispersion Vowel quality Jacobs et al. 2000 Pierrehumbert et al. 2004
Munson et al. 2006
Piccolo 2008 Y N Jacobs et al. 2000
Pierrehumbert et al. 2004
Munson et al. 2006
Zimman ms. Piccolo 2008 Y N F1 F2 N Jacobs et al. 2000
Pierrehumbert et al. 2004
Zimman 2010, ms. Y Munson et al. 2006 (front vowels)
Munson 2007 Y Munson et al. 2006 (back vowels) N Munson 2007
Jacobs et al. 2000
Pierrehumbert et al. 2004
Zimman 2010, ms. Nasality Falsetto Creak Podesva 2007 Podesva 2007
Zimman ms. Zimman ms. Indexicality is a theoretical construct that helps us understand how language conveys social meaning.

Indexical meaning derives from Peirce's distinction between icon, symbol, and index. Indexes "point to" or suggest a particular stance, activity, trait, or category of persons based on conventionalized associations (i.e. language ideologies).

Indexicality allows us to understand the multiple facets of social meanings. Silverstein (2003) describes a way of understanding these links: the indexical order. Given a particular index, we expect: 1. Normative contexts for use.
2. A metapragmatic system that ideologically links the index to its associated contexts. Wide
pitch range Normative contexts for use:
Among women. Metapragmatic ideology:
Wide pitch range is a "feminine" trait. When this feature is introduced into a new context, another layer of ideologically-mediated indexical meaning arises. 1st order According to the 1st order metapragmatic system, gay men use a wide pitch range to talk like women. 2nd order But according to the 2nd order ideology, a wide pitch range takes on a new meaning: gay identity New context:
Among gay men. A new, competing
metapragmatic ideology: Linville (1998) Similar argument: gay-sounding voices are acquired by gay-identified men through participation in a gay community.
Socialization is mentioned, but only the kind that results from having a gay identity. The Gender Normativity Model Reincorporating identity Challenges to the Gay Identity Model:
Why don't all gay-identified men sound gay?
More troublingly, why do some non-gay men sound gay?
Why do these particular (gender-linked) features index gay identity? Jacobs, Smyth & Rogers (2000, 2002, 2003) suggest a solution: They note that the phonetic traits that make a voice gay-sounding are also gender markers that are learned socially during childhood.
The authors suggest that boys who model their speech after women during childhood will develop gay-sounding voices as adults. (we might want to include peer group and adolescence as well as adults and childhood). Renn's (2002) BA thesis in psychology tests the hypothesis: Renn used psychological inventories to measure gender normativity and "outness".
As it turned out, speakers' responses to the Recalled Childhood Gender Behavior Scale were strong predictors of perceived orientation, to the point where actual orientation was no longer significant.
Renn invokes the tendency for gender non-normative men to be gay, but what he's really talking about is indexicality. The association is ideological, meaning we don't have to worry about demographics. Munson (2007; with colleagues in 2006) has argued against the gender normativity model: Points out that perceived orientation and perceived gender normativity are not exactly the same (listeners distinguish between feminine & gay-sounding men's voices).

Shows (2007 paper) that F0 correlates with gender normativity & the skew of /s/ with orientation.

Argues that if gay-sounding men were really talking "like women" that their voices would more closely resemble norms for women's voices. (We know from, e.g. trans women, that people are able to change pitch & formant frequencies.) Instead, a select few of these gendered traits index gay identity. Munson's argument is a strong one, but the critiques put forth by the gender normativity model stand. Furthermore, if we really want to understand perceived orientation, we have to consider the links between the various meanings indexed by the relevant traits. Podesva, Roberts & Campbell-Kibler are the authors who have paid the closest attention to the connections on the indexical field (Eckert 2008).

Together (2001) they considered the use of /t/ release as a sign of professionalism as well as gay identity. In (2007) Podesva considers the use of falsetto voice quality as part of the construction of a "diva" persona by one gay man. Campbell-Kibler's (2007) paper considers the role of (ING) the perception of orientation and region.

Yet the intuitive link between gender normativity and sexuality has not been explored as thoroughly. Podesva et al. 2001
Podesva 2007
Campbell-Kibler 2007 Some authors (Lerman & Damsté 1969; Pierrehumbert et al. 2004) have suggested that we could attribute gay-sounding voices to either gay identity or gender normativity, but what I argue is that we need to consider both. Despite the weaknesses of each approach, combining them provides a strong explanatory tool. My study My findings (based loosely on Smyth et al. 2003) 3 speaker groups: 5 gay men 5 straight men 5 trans men are individuals assigned to a female gender role at birth, but who come to identify as men. Hormonal (testosterone) therapy is the most commonly sought medical intervention among trans men. Testosterone leads to many physical changes visually as well as a drop in vocal pitch.

Van Borsel & his colleagues (2000, 2006) found that 2 Belgian trans men went from mean F0 of 215 --> 155 Hz for one speaker and 160 --> 132 Hz for the other. None of the trans men who participated in this project identify as gay, though 4 of the 5 described themselves as 'queer' – an identity common among trans men. Crucially, none identified as gay, described themselves as members of a gay community, or wished to be viewed as gay. All had maintained long-term relationships with women. Speakers were interviewed & read the Rainbow Passage, which was used: 1. To collect listener perceptions, and 2. To perform acoustic analysis. Why trans men? Age range 20-51
Mostly white (some exceptions, but did not seem to affect perception in this case)
From urban & suburban parts of Colorado & California Vowel quality Pitch Center of gravity, standard deviation, skew & kurtosis from 17 tokens. Mean F1 & F2 of 50 stressed vowels.
Gross F0 range. Vowel dispersion F1 & F2 range.
Mean Euclidean distance from center of vowel space. Voice quality Creaky voice quality.
Nasal coarticulation. /s/ Mixed-effects linear regression would be an ideal way to consider both perceived orientation and group (i.e. trans vs. gay vs. straight men), but my data limit the options.

1. Simple regressions to find the relationship between mean gayness ratings & acoustic measurements.
2. Multivariate regression to examine the relative contribution of the independently significant factors.
3. Post-hoc ANOVAs to compare the two gay-sounding groups. Statistical methods Perceptual Results Acoustic Results The trans men were indeed perceived as gay-sounding. The trans men were significantly more gay-sounding than the straight men (p = 0.015), as were the gay men (p = 0.0009). There was no significant difference between the trans and gay men (p = 0.2779). But are these speaker as similar acoustically as they are perceptually? No. Note: most measurements showed no significant differences between the trans and non-trans speakers. Measures other than vowel quality Vowel quality Multivariate analysis Analysis by groups Gay-sounding speakers had...
Significantly more negative skew for /s/ than the straight-sounding speakers. (F[1,13] = 8.169, p = 0.0135).
A greater number of vowels with creaky voice quality (F[1,13] = 3.2911, p = 0.0928).
Significantly earlier onset of nasality in contexts of nasal coarticulation (F[1.13] = 4.804, p = 0.0472).
Greater vowel dispersion (F[1,13] = 4.775, p = 0.0478) as measured by mean Euclidean distance, but not F1/F2 range.
No differences in F0. Gay-sounding speakers had...
A higher F1 for BIT (F[1,13] = 3.473, p = 0.0851)
A lower F1 for BOT (F[1,13] = 5.165, p = 0.0429)
A lower F1 for BOOK (F[1,13] = 5.036, p = 0.0407). More nasal coarticulation (p = 0.0491).
Marginally lower F2 for BAN (p = 0.1)
Interaction with sexuality ratings: gayer-sounding gay men had higher F1 for BET (p = 0.0536). Higher F2 for BOUT (p = 0.0452)
Lower F2 for BOAT (p = 0.0522).
Interaction with gay rating: gayer-sounding trans men had higher F2 (p = 0.0625). Gay group Trans group Of course, considering what we know about the study of gay-sounding voices, these trends can't be taken as definitive. Nasal coarticulation
Mean spectral skew of /s/
Number of creaky vowels
Mean Euclidean distance
from center
BOOK F1 p = 0.28970
p = 0.04705 *
p = 0.00206 **
p = 0.17602

p = 0.00433 **
p = 0.00230 **
p = 0.52361 Light/dark /l/ Jacobs et al. 2000 Podesva et al. 2001 Y N Piccolo 2008 Analysis of individual gay-sounding speakers
Interactional data
The acquisition/socialization process
Learning more about the indexical fields of these charcteristics
Analysis of women(!) I argue that gender socialization experiences are key for trans men who are perceived as gay-sounding. Yet identity is clearly key as well ­ these speakers are not just products of their socialization. Furthermore, the one straight-identified trans men in this study was also the straightest sounding. My findings in some ways contradict those of previous studies, including my own pilot.
...which by now shouldn't be surprising. We also shouldn't be surprised if we consider the possibility that there are multiple phonetic styles that can be perceived as equally "gay-sounding" (cf. Zwicky 1997, Barrett 1997, Gordon 2008, Zimman 2010) Rather than trying to integrate contradictory findings, we should stop expecting to find a single gay-sounding style. Instead, perhaps we should think about analyzing speakers on an individual basis. But if there are multiple gay-sounding styles, there may well be multiple routes to the acquisition of a gay-sounding style. My conclusions Acoustic Social Analyzing individual speakers Levon (2007) found that the way features bundle is important: reducing pitch range worked to change the perception of one gay-sounding speaker, but not a straight-sounding speaker. Methods 1. Calculated standard deviation for each acoustic variable.

2. Determined when speakers were "outliers" by seeing when they fell outside of the 2 central
deviations Results Jacobs et al. 2000 References Adler, Richard K. & John van Borsel (2006). Female-to-male considerations. In Richard K. Adler, Sandy Hirsch, & Michelle Mordaunt (eds.), Voice and Communication Therapy for the Transgender/Transsexual Client: A Comprehensive Clinical Guide. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing. 139-167.
Barrett, Rusty (1997). The "homo-genius" speech community. In Anna Livia & Kira Hall (eds.), Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press. 181-201.
van Borsel, John, Griet de Cuypere, Robert Rubens, & B. Destaerke (2000). Voice problems in female-to-male transsexuals. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders 35(3):427-442.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn (2007). Accent, (ING), and the social logic of listener perceptions. American Speech 82(1):32-64.
Crist, Sean (1997). Duration of onset consonants in gay male stereotyped speech. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 4(3):53-70.
Gaudio, Rudolf P. (1994). Sounding gay: Pitch properties in the speech of gay and straight men. American Speech 69(1):30-57.
Gordon, Bryan (2008). Gay sounds: A non-discrete model of Gay speech. Paper presented at the Lavender Languages and Linguistics XV, February 16, Washington, D.C.
Jacobs, Greg, Ron Smyth, & Henry Rogers (2000). Language and sexuality: Searching for the phonetic correlates of gay- and straight-sounding male voices. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 18:115-118.
Lerman, J.W. & P.H. Damsté (1969). Voice pitch of homosexuals. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica 21:340-346.
Levon, Erez (2006). Hearing "gay": Prosody, interpretation, and the affective judgments of men's speech. American Speech 81(1):56-78.
Levon, Erez (2007). Sexuality in context: Variation and the sociolinguistic perception of identity. Language in Society 36(4):533-554.
Linville, Sue Ellen (1998). Acoustic correlates of perceived versus actual sexual orientation in men's speech. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica 50:35-48.
Munson, Benjamin, Elizabeth McDonald, Nancy L. DeBoe, & Aubrey R. White (2006). The acoustic and perceptual bases of judgments of women and men's sexual orientation from read speech. Journal of Phonetics 34(2):202-240.
Munson, Benjamin (2007). The acoustic correlates of perceived masculinity, perceived femininity, and perceived sexual orientation. Language and Speech 50(1):125-142.
Piccolo, Fabiana (2008). Perceived sexual orientation and attitudes toward sounding gay or straight. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 14(2):Article 16.
Pierrehumbert, Janet B., Tessa Bent, Benjamin Munson, Ann R. Bradlow & J. Michael Bailey (2004). The influence of sexual orientation on vowel production (L). Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 116(4):1905-1908.
Podesva, Robert J. (2007). Phonation type as a stylistic variable: The use of falsetto in constructing a persona. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11(4):478-504.
Podesva, Robert J., Sara J. Roberts, & Kathryn Campbell-Kibler (2001). Sharing resources and indexing meanings in the production of gay styles. In Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, Robert J. Podesva, Sarah J. Roberts, & Andrew Wong (eds.), Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications. 175-189.
Smyth, Ron, Greg Jacobs, & Henry Rogers (2003). Male voices and perceived sexual orientation: An experimental and theoretical approach. Language in Society 32(3):329-350.
Smyth, Ron, & Henry Rogers (2002). Phonetics, gender, and sexual orientation. In Sophie Burelle & Stanca Somesfalean (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2002 Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association. Montréal, Canada: Dept. de linguistique et de didactique des langues, University du Québec à Montréal. 299-311.
Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23:193-229.
Zimman, Lal (2010). Female-to-male transsexuals and gay-sounding voices: A pilot study. Colorado Research in Linguistics 22(1):http://www.colorado.edu/ling/CRIL/Volume22_Issue1/paper_ZIMMAN.pdf.
Zimman, Lal (under review) Trans men and gay-sounding voices: An integrated approach to gender, sexuality, identity, and socialization. Submitted to Language in Society.
Zwicky, Arnold (1997). Two lavender issues for linguists. In Anna Livia & Kira Hall (eds.), Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press. 21-34. Prototypical gay-sounding speakers Prototypical straight-sounding speakers Second highest gayness rating in sample (3.59).
High degree of nasal coarticulation (63%).
Low mean F0 (91 Hz).
High F1.
High degree of vowel dispersion. Gay-sounding speaker #1 ("Craig") Highest gayness rating in sample (3.925).
High degree of nasal coarticulation (87%).
High center of gravity for /s/ (7035 Hz).
Highly negative skew for /s/.
High degree of vowel dispersion. Gay-sounding speaker #2 ("Phil") Third highest gayness rating in sample (3.525).
Low center of gravity for /s/ (5626 Hz).
Lots of creak (34 vowels).
High F1.
High degree of vowel dispersion. Gay-sounding speaker #3 ("Erik") Second lowest gayness rating in sample (1.806).
Low degree of nasal coarticulation (40%).
Highly positive skew for /s/.
Small F0 range (27 Hz).
High mean F2. Straight-sounding speaker #1 ("Connor") Lowest gayness rating in sample (1.727).
Low mean F2. Third lowest gayness rating in sample (1.947).
Low center of gravity for /s/ (5609 Hz). Straight-sounding speaker #3 ("Pete") Straight-sounding speaker #2 ("Fritz") gay group trans group trans group straight group straight group straight group Conclusions The importance of a broad perspective:
Identity + socialization,
Gender + sexuality,
Individual + group,
Quantitative + qualitative. Thank you!
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