Research Article| Volume 27, ISSUE 5, P556-566, September 2013

Speaking Fundamental Frequency and Vowel Formant Frequencies: Effects on Perception of Gender

Published:February 15, 2013DOI:



      The purpose of the present study was to investigate the contribution of vowel formant frequencies to gender identification in connected speech, the distinctiveness of vowel formants in males versus females, and how ambiguous speaking fundamental frequencies (SFFs) and vowel formants might affect perception of gender.

      Study Design

      Multivalent experimental.


      Speakers subjects (eight tall males, eight short females, and seven males and seven females of “middle” height) were recorded saying two carrier phrases to elicit the vowels /i/ and /α/ and a sentence. The gender/height groups were selected to (presumably) maximize formant differences between some groups (tall vs short) and minimize differences between others (middle height). Each subjects' samples were digitally altered to distinct SFFs (116, 145, 155, 165, and 207 Hz) to represent SFFs typical of average males, average females, and in an ambiguous range. Listeners judged the gender of each randomized altered speech sample.


      Results indicated that female speakers were perceived as female even with an SFF in the typical male range. For male speakers, gender perception was less accurate at SFFs of 165 Hz and higher. Although the ranges of vowel formants had considerable overlap between genders, significant differences in formant frequencies of males and females were seen.


      Vowel formants appeared to be important to perception of gender, especially for SFFs in the range of 145–165 Hz; however, formants may be a more salient cue in connected speech when compared with isolated vowels or syllables.

      Key Words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Journal of Voice
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Fu Q.
        • Chinchilla S.
        • Nogaki G.
        • Galvin III, J.J.
        Voice gender identification by cochlear implant users: the role of spectral and temporal resolution.
        J Acoust Soc Am. 2005; 118: 1711-1727
        • Perry T.L.
        • Ohde R.N.
        • Ashmead D.H.
        The acoustic base for gender identification from children’s voices.
        J Acoust Soc Am. 2001; 109: 2988-2998
        • Wolfe V.
        • Ratusnik D.
        • Smith F.
        • Northrop G.
        Intonation and fundamental frequency in male-to-female transsexuals.
        J Speech Hear Dis. 1990; 55: 43-50
        • Spencer L.
        Speech characteristics of male-to-female transsexuals: a perceptual and acoustic study.
        Folia Phoniatr. 1988; 40: 31-42
        • Gelfer M.P.
        • Schofield K.J.
        Comparison of acoustic and perceptual measures of voice in male-to-female transsexuals perceived as female versus those perceived as male.
        J Voice. 2000; 14: 22-33
        • Gelfer M.P.
        • Mikos V.A.
        The relative contributions of speaking fundamental frequency and formant frequencies to gender identification based on isolated vowels.
        J Voice. 2005; 19: 544-554
        • Hillenbrand J.M.
        • Clark M.J.
        The role of f0 and formant frequencies in distinguishing the voices of men and women.
        Atten Percept Psychophys. 2009; 71: 1150-1166
        • Bachorowski J.A.
        • Owren M.J.
        Acoustic correlates of talker sex and individual talker identity are present in a short vowel segment produced in running speech.
        J Acoust Soc Am. 1999; 106: 1054-1063
        • Whiteside S.P.
        The identification of a speaker’s sex from synthesized vowels.
        Percept Mot Skills. 1998; 87: 595-600
        • Ma E.P.
        • Love A.L.
        Electroglottographic evaluation of age and gender effects during sustained phonation and connected speech.
        J Voice. 2010; 24: 146-152
        • Fitch J.L.
        Consistency of fundamental frequency and perturbation in repeated phonations of sustained vowels, reading and connected speech.
        J Speech Hear Disord. 1990; 55: 360-363
        • Hollien H.
        • Hollien P.A.
        • de Jong G.
        Effects of the three parameters on speaking fundamental frequency.
        J Acoust Soc Am. 1997; 102: 2984-2992
        • D’haeseleer E.
        • Depypere Y.
        • Claeys S.
        • Wuyts F.L.
        • Baudonck N.
        • Van Lierde K.M.
        Vocal characteristics of middle-aged premenopausal women.
        J Voice. 2011; 25: 360-366
        • Schneider B.
        • Bigenzahn W.
        Influence of glottal closure configuration on vocal efficacy in young normal-speaking women.
        J Voice. 2003; 17: 468-480
        • Hollien H.
        • Shipp T.
        Speaking fundamental frequency and chronologic age in males.
        J Speech Hear Res. 1972; 15: 155-159
        • Behrman A.
        Speech and Voice Science.
        Plural Publishing Inc., San Diego, CA2007
        • Hollien H.
        • Jackson B.
        Normative data on the speaking fundamental characteristics of young adult males.
        J Phonetic. 1973; 1: 117-120
        • Acoustical Society of America
        American Standard Acoustical Terminology.
        Author, New York, NY1960
        • Peterson G.E.
        • Barney H.L.
        Control methods used in a study of the vowels.
        J Acoust Soc Am. 1952; 24: 175-184
        • Hillenbrand J.
        • Getty L.A.
        • Clark M.J.
        • Wheeler K.
        Acoustic characteristics of American English vowels.
        J Acoust Soc Am. 1995; 97: 3099-3111
        • Mount K.
        • Salmon S.
        Changing the vocal characteristics of a postoperative transsexual patient: a longitudinal study.
        J Commun Disord. 1988; 21: 229-238
        • Coleman R.
        A comparison of the contributions of two voice quality characteristics to the perception of maleness and femaleness in the voice.
        J Speech Hear Res. 1976; 19: 168-180
      1. Halls SB, Hanson J. Average height and weight charts. 2000; Available at: Accessed June 30, 2009.

      2. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Guidelines for audiological screening. [Guidelines]; 1997: Available at: Accessed April 25, 2012.

      3. Vaux B. Harvard dialect study. 2000–2005; Available at: Accessed April 25, 2012.

        • Fairbanks G.
        Voice and Articulation Drillbook.
        2nd ed. Harper & Row, New York, NY1960
      4. Boersma P, Weenink D. PRAAT: Doing phonetics by computer, version 5.0.03. 1992-2008; Available at: Accessed May 28, 2010.

        • Schiavetti N.
        • Metz D.
        Evaluating Research in Communicative Disorders.
        5th ed. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA2006
      5. PASW Statistics (release 18.0). IBM Corporation, Chicago, IL2010
        • Ferrand C.
        Voice Disorders: Scope of Theory and Practice.
        Pearson, Boston, MA2012
        • Van Borsel J.
        • Janssens J.
        • De Bodt M.
        Breathiness as a feminine voice characteristic: a perceptual approach.
        J Voice. 2009; 23: 291-294