Sunday, July 21, 2019

Women's Voices have Gotten Deeper

Cecilia Pemberton at the University of South Australia studied the voices of two groups of Australian women aged 18–25 years. The researchers compared archival recordings of women talking in 1945 with more recent recordings taken in the early 1990s. The team found that the “fundamental frequency” had dropped by 23 Hz over five decades – from an average of 229 Hz (roughly an A# below middle C) to 206 Hz (roughly a G#). That’s a significant, audible difference.
Obviously this is just one study, but I it corresponds to what everyone I have asked thinks. Everyone I have asked has also offered the same reason: feminism and changes in power dynamics.


Mer Almagro said...

And people (including other women) telling you that your voice is annoying. My voice is high because that's the way it is, and if I could in any way lower it I would, I wonder how they do it.

We've become more cynical since the 90s and are less into the cute and innocent (just look at the movies, they're nearly all gritty and jaded), so high voices are now considered irritating, not feminine.

pootrsox said...

I can pitch my voice up or down (not musically, but for speech) and always pitched it down a bit as a classroom teacher of high school students.

A 5'1" chubby woman is either "too young" to generate respect or "too old and fuddyduddy" to garner it. But someone with a strong voice becomes more powerful-- so powerful that I was regularly told by male students who were standing next to me that they had not realized how short I was-- they thought I was "much taller!"

At the same time, modeling strength as a woman was good for my female students, as affirmed by feedback from women over the decades.

(Side story: I was the club adviser for the Dungeons & Dragons club in the '80's. The group was mixed-gender. The relationships were warm. I learned later that the kids had dubbed me "Obiwan Bonomi" after my surname, as a term of affection. To this day, one woman, a former executive VP at Lehman Brothers before the crash, who still travels the world as a consultant on tax law for charitable organizations with massive endowments, calls me "Obiwan." It always makes me smile-- and wish I really had some of The Force.)

G. Verloren said...

I'm curious if they also compared male voices from archival recordings, as a control to compare against.

When I think of old black and white footage from the 1950s or similar, my sense is that everyone in general talked at somewhat higher pitches - or at least, the sorts of people who regularly appeared on television and similar.

The effect might well be far more pronounced among women, but my impression is that many male actors and whatnot also spoke in at least slightly elevated tones compared to today. Perhaps not the hard-boiled noir detectives or menacing thugs and "toughs", but certainly any man who was playing the part of a "gentleman" or even just an "everyman", and particularly program hosts and the like.

I would assume there's a connection to prevalence of the Mid-Atlantic accent, given the article makes mention of Received Pronunciation, which heavily influenced it. Male voices do seem to have trended at least a little lower once the Mid-Atlantic accent fell out of favor, and film and television started pushing for a more naturalistic kind of speech.

Shadow said...

Anything to do with the audio equipment of the era or the speed at which it was recorded?