Amy Hemmeter

Phonetics & Sociolinguistics

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Amy Hemmeter


A waveform example of Vocal Creak.

Social and acoustic factors in the perception of creak

Several production studies have recently linked women in the United States to the usage of “creak,” or “vocal fry” (Yuasa, 2010; Podesva 2011; Wolk et al 2011; Anderson and Nguyen 2004; Mendoza-Denton 2011). Perception studies about creak have been rarer and have generally focused on the personality traits associated with creak (Yuasa 2010, Anderson et al. 2014). Although these studies have found that listeners associate creak with women and femininity, few aim to tease apart the salience of creak in women’s speech as a result of acoustic realities versus social associations. This study aims to determine whether listeners a) detect creak more easily in women’s voices and b) if so, whether this salience is due in part to the greater expectation of creak due to the perceived association of creak with women, as opposed to the ease of detecting creak in voices with higher fundamental frequency.

Creating gender-neutral stimuli

Studies of perception in gender are considerably more rare than production studies, and I contend that one of the reasons for this is that acoustically altering audio stimuli for the purpose of testing certain linguistic aspects of gender is quite difficult.. In this project, I make an effort to create perceptually gender-neutral stimuli for the purpose of running perception experiments about gender. At this time, testing the stimuli themselves for whether participants think of them as gender-neutral is the most feasible way of creating such stimuli. I controlled as much as possible for the acoustic effects of sexual dimorphism by recording taller women, and I then altered those recordings and tested them in a perception study to find whether listeners judged them as gender-neutral (i.e. guessed at chance whether the speakers were male or female). Click on the link above for my SECOL 82 conference slideshow.

Gender and formality effects on the production of vocal fry

According to almost all of the recent literature on the subject of “vocal fry” (“creaky voice” in the parlance of most linguists), women are reported to use the feature more than their male counterparts (Podesva 2011, Yuasa 2010, Mendoza-Denton 2011, Anderson and Nguyen 2004, Wolk et al 2012). Most of these studies examined the feature in the context of an informal sociolinguistic interview; none compared formal contexts to informal contexts, although some linguists have discussed women using vocal fry frequently in formal contexts such as news broadcasting (Yuasa 2010). The current study examines vocal fry as it relates to both gender and formality to determine whether women use vocal fry more often than men, and to determine whether the type of speaking task played a role in the usage of vocal fry. Click on the link above to view my poster for NWAV 42.