The acoustic bases for gender identification from children's voices

J Acoust Soc Am. 2001 Jun;109(6):2988-98. doi: 10.1121/1.1370525.


The purpose of this study was to examine the acoustic characteristics of children's speech and voices that account for listeners' ability to identify gender. In Experiment I, vocal recordings and gross physical measurements of 4-, 8-, 12-, and 16-year olds were taken (10 girls and 10 boys per age group). The speech sample consisted of seven nondiphthongal vowels of American English (/ae/ "had," /E/ "head," /i/ "heed," /I/ "hid," /a/ "hod," /inverted v/ "hud," and /u/ "who'd") produced in the carrier phrase, "Say /hVd/ again." Fundamental frequency (f0) and formant frequencies (F1, F2, F3) were measured from these syllables. In Experiment II, 20 adults rated the syllables produced by the children in Experiment I based on a six-point gender rating scale. The results from these experiments indicate (1) vowel formant frequencies differentiate gender for children as young as four years of age, while formant frequencies and f0 differentiate gender after 12 years of age, (2) the relationship between gross measures of physical size and vocal characteristics is apparent for at least 12- and 16-year olds, and (3) listeners can identify gender from the speech and voice of children as young as four years of age, and with respect to young children, listeners appear to base their gender ratings on vowel formant frequencies. The findings are discussed in relation to the development of gender identity and its perceptual representation in speech and voice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phonetics
  • Sex Factors
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Speech Perception*