What does voice pitch indicate?

by on September 5, 2006 at 2:11 pm in Science | Permalink

Women in almost every culture speak in deeper voices than Japanese women.  American women’s voices are lower than Japanese women’s, Swedish women’s are lower than American’s, and Dutch women’s are lower than Swedish women’s.  Vocal difference is one way of expressing social difference, so that in Dutch society, which doesn’t differentiate much between its image of the ideal male and the ideal female, there are few differences between male and female voice.  The Dutch also find medium and low pitch more attractive than high pitch.

That is from the new and interesting The Human Voice: How this Extraordinary Instrument Reveals Essential Clues About Who We Are, by Anne Karpf.  Here is an interesting dissertation abstract on voice pitch, some of which relates to economic ideas on signaling.

John Thacker September 5, 2006 at 2:58 pm

Interestingly, all the Japanese women of my acquaintance also speak in lower voices when speaking in English than they do when speaking Japanese.

The Chieftain of Seir September 5, 2006 at 5:51 pm

Perhaps I am just revealing my cultural ignorance here but is the pitch mostly a factor of the speed at which a person is talking?

I say this because the last time I had the privilege of hearing Japanese woman speak it seemed like they were talking awful fast (with a high pitch). Yet when they switched to English, they talked slower and with a much lower pitch. I have also noticed that when English speakers start talking faster their pitch rises.

jason voorhees September 5, 2006 at 6:45 pm

This link fits with this post, I think. The evolutionary psychological explanation for why music persists in communities.

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2006/09/03/survival_of_the_harmonious/?page=full

Hannah September 6, 2006 at 12:16 am

Fascinating post, thanks. You might also find this interesting: http://www1.wfubmc.edu/voice/singers/bogart_bacall.htm
Leave it to American Medicine to reduce two of the greatest voices in film history to a disorder!
Bogart-Bacall Syndrome, or BBS, describes a cluster of symptoms sometimes affecting those with low-pitched speaking voices, including vocal fatigue, soreness or pain in the throat with prolonged use and hoarseness. Bacall was said to have practiced her lower register for To Have and Have Not but it later became her trademark and natural speaking voice. Sometimes a syndrome is just a sexy voice†¦.

Dustin September 6, 2006 at 5:21 am

Yeah, I don’t know if you could consider this a universal law, but it seems to make sense.

So does, this mean that women lowering the pitch of their voices would influence gender equity in some way? or is it just a phenomonon of the culture solely?

John Thacker September 6, 2006 at 9:48 am

FTB:

There are certainly heroines with low voices. Takayama Minami has a low voice regardless of her role. (Including her young boy roles, such as Edogawa Conan.) Mitsuishi Kotono, who played Sailor Moon, also has a large range in her voice, and has played older female characters will low voices… Mirelle Bouquet in Noir, for example. Kawasumi Ayako and Hayashibara Megumi also play both heroines with low and high voices. (For example, Lafiel from Crest of the Stars and Mahoro from Mahoromatic for Kawasumi-san, and a host of roles for Hayashibara-san.)

You can’t say it’s a “good girl” versus “bad girl” thing, though certainly the ditsy/nice girl roles get higher voices than the cynical, world-weary, or serious ones. Of course.

Steve September 6, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Isn’t voice pitch related to the length of your vocal cords, which is presumably closely correlated with height? Is this the correct order of average height by county: Holland > Sweden > Amercia > Japan?

Steve Sailer September 6, 2006 at 5:29 pm

In West Africa, there’s a cultural norm that women speak higher than their natural voices and men speak lower. At least that’s what a Cameroonian girl I was dating told me long ago.

Still, it’s silly to say that there are few differences in vocal pitch between the sexes in the Netherlands. I guess that explains all those Dutch men who sing soprano in the opera and all the Dutch female baritones.

Loki on the run September 6, 2006 at 8:59 pm


Japenese is a faster language than English, and Enlish is a faster language than Dutch.

While I can’t comment about languages that don’t exist, I guess that explains why Pieter van den Hoogenband can swim 25 meters faster than the commentators can pronounce his name.

ralph ruben emmers September 7, 2006 at 3:51 am

Hi all, this is my first post on the blog since becoming a phd student at GMU. I did read the blog before that but since it now is ‘ homework ‘ to read the blog I’ll show I’ve been doing it diligently :)

I actually had a discussion about this with my dutch girlfriend; ( me being dutch also ), and other dutch females and they all expressed some aversion to the american women’s voice pitch which they regarded as immature.
Something to do with acting female and apparently the dutch females don’ t like it because they regard it as some kind of fakeness.
I personally prefer the higher voices cause they sound friendlier. Besides that, I think english already sounds friendlier than dutch..

Stuart September 7, 2006 at 6:39 am

I don’t hear dutch much but as a Southern African I have always heard a great deal of Afrikaans. People speaking Afrikaans always sound to me like they are arguing in gruff voices even when they are being romantic. One Boer told me that it is the ideal language for shouting at a dog in…

msmusic6@yahoo.com October 1, 2006 at 4:28 pm

I have a male interest whose voice pitch will often rise, reminding me of a girl.
Does anyone know if this would then mean that he is homosexual?
Or could it mean that he lacks testosterone?
I am interested in dating him. He insists that
he isn’t gay but this voice
pitch issue makes me think otherwise.
Any thoughts on this?

Asia April 4, 2007 at 7:02 am

And the other thing, I’ve noticed is that the woman’s voice rises in pitch when she is asking for something, especially from man. I also do so, absolutely unintentionally.

whooter September 23, 2007 at 4:48 am

fist of all I’m dutch, I like the more natural pitched femal voice.
I think as far as American, Dutch en Sweedish females, it’s got to do with self-confidence, woman than want/need to be more social accepted by going “underdog”. the image of cute, barby, jumpy, young.

ever met a female school princpal or police officer with a high pitched vioce?

gay men and woman don’t need to be social accepted, as the are “out”, selfassured, they can’t mascarade behind the voice. it ovious what they are.
as for the Japanees, I think there the pinnical of imagening lolita, cute.

interting on a documentry on the image-building of Hillary Cliton. it was shown when she was the fist wife (wife off-) her voice was higher pitched than when she’s running for Congress or president.

all in all I think it’s social rather than somethink to do with lenght or langueas.

Christian R. June 8, 2008 at 7:34 am

Well, I too disagree with the statement that American women pitch their voice higher than natural. On the contrary, I believe that often they do the opposite in order to be taken seriously, which is a shame. For fear of being considered “not tough enough” in a discussion or debate, they tend to ape what is also a kind of male stereotype, the deep-voiced male leader. As a male feminist, I regret this, as I much prefer a woman with a soft, high-pitched voice, while at the same time being 100% for a female-led society. Unfortunately, male chauvinist pigs are a majority in positions of power, and they are too dumb to accept that power and wits can be associated with grace, charm, and softness.

Anonymous October 13, 2008 at 10:47 pm
shevoice December 24, 2008 at 10:35 am

As for pitch-

Vocal cord ability and such is a part of this but the main reason why Japanese and Americans speak in high pitch voices is because thats the way society expects them to.

Like it or not, most men find that high pitch voice to be very attractive. So Hollywood took note of this and started hiring women who spoke in this manner. Young women grew up listening to this voice and men grew up fantasizing about it. Opposites attract and the high pitch voice is an extreme voice that attracts men.

Women are also attracted to men with a deeper voice than their own.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: