October 19, 2004

More on Phonetic Gaydar

The recent paper by Pierrehumbert et al. discussed by Mark is interesting because of what it shows about the acoustic basis for the perception of sexual orientation, but it is not the first to show that people can judge a speaker's sexual orientation from his speech. They themselves cite references from 1998 and 2000, but to my knowledge the first study to demonstrate this is a paper published in 1994 by Rudi Gaudio: "Sounding Gay: Pitch Properties in the Speech of Gay and Straight Men," American Speech 69.1.30-57. (This paper is cited by Pierrehumbert et al., but not on this point.) He investigated the hypothesis that openly gay men's speech can be distinguished from that of straight men by means of intonation, especially the "dynamism" of the fundamental frequency contour. He found that listeners could indeed reliably judge whether a speaker was gay or straight by listening to a sample of his speech.

However, he was unable to identify the acoustic basis for this phenomenon. Previous observers had suggested that the relevant factor was the "dynamism" of the fundamental frequency contour. They did not define "dynamism", so he computed a variety of plausible measures of the "dynamism" of the F0 contour. (The manual page and source code for the program he used to compute the measures of dynamism are available here: pflux.) The results he obtained suggested that intonation does play some role, but he did not obtain a clear correlation between measures of F0 dynamism and the sexual orientation of the speaker.

Posted by Bill Poser at October 19, 2004 05:36 PM