A person’s voice could dictate how feminine or masculine other people perceive the speaker to be, according to a study by researchers at the University of Utah. Those with clearer speaking styles are judged to be more feminine.

The researchers asked their recruited listeners to determine how feminine or masculine a speaker sounds rather than judge the speaker’s gender. They observed that female speakers have more variability in their pitch, have higher voice pitch and increased their vowel space when speaking. However, when male speakers increased the clarity of their speech like what was observed in female speakers, the respondents thought these speakers to be more feminine. The team concluded that clear speech makes a person sound feminine.

“While the effect was small, an average of six percent for male talkers, some individual talkers showed larger changes in perceived femininity when they spoke clearly,” says Jaime Booz, a graduate student researcher at the University of Utah. “Higher fundamental frequency, greater pitch variability, and increased vowel space — which are related to the size and shape of the vocal tract — are all correlated with an increased perception of femininity.”


Transgender rights protest. Credit: Flickr/Franziska Neumeister

Still, the team asserts that the impact of speech clarity on a person’s perceived femininity or masculinity was small. Altering one’s speech clarity may not necessarily help transgender individuals who want to sound more feminine.

“We aren’t sure what effect adopting a clear speaking style will have for feminine transgender people attempting to change listener perceptions of their gender,” adds Booz. “But it’s plausible that using a clear speaking style may become one of many tools for voice clinicians and clients to tip the scales more toward a voice perceived as feminine.”

The research team aims to continue their study on the transgender community’s voice and communication needs. They plan to investigate the impact of a transgender person’s voice on the quality of life.