An American stereotype of men as more emotionally 'stable' than women makes 'variability'—or, more precisely, pitch range—a significant cue to stereotyped perceptions of men's speech.

- Gaudio, Rudolf P. & Stanford University. "Sounding Gay:
Pitch Properties in the Speech of Gay and Straight Men." American Speech
69.1 (1994): pp30-56. (Quote from p.36).


It is not uncommon for people to think that they can determine the sexual orientation identity of a man by simply listening to his voice. And if the findings of the scientific experiment conducted by Rudolf P. Gaudio are reliable, it is not uncommon for people to be right about their assessments.

Gaudio designed a controlled, scientific experiment, in which he recorded the voices of male participants speaking, including reading the same passages from several books of varying subject matter. The participants were asked about their sexual orientation identities, and this information was documented. Gaudio then played these recordings to listener-volunteers, and these volunteers filled out evaluation sheets, rating each voice they heard, on a scale of 1 to 7, against the following dichotomies:

As it turns out, most people were able to tell the difference between gay and straight men by their voices alone. But explaining why this is so isn't as simple.

Since the article is published in an academic speech journal, the author of the paper, Gaudio,* is presumably an expert on hearing and speech. Gaudio's analysis focuses on pitch and range as potential subconscious data sources allowing for distinguishing gay voices from straight ones. An apparent expert on pitch, Gaudio's project is to see if pitch or range alone correlate with what a 'gay' voice is.

As it turns out, the results on that point were inconclusive. But the study revealed something else that was interesting. Concluding that pitch and range are not enough alone to explain the subjects' exhibited pattern of correctly picking out the voices of the gay confederates, Gaudio nonetheless points out that his data does support pitch playing a role in the matter.

More interestingly, he points out that (what I'll call) 'pitch context' is an even stronger clue as to what's going on when people can guess sexual orientation identity by phonological clues. One of the passages that was read by the confederate participants was a passage from an accounting text, while the others were more emotional passages, including a dramatic play. It was in the context of the unemotional accounting text that the gay speakers were most identifiably 'gay' to the subjects who listened to their voices.

Exactly what this means, Gaudio won't speculate on, probably because he hasn't formulated a strong hypothesis worthy of mentioning in an academic journal. Personally, I'll speculate that this interesting clue might be explained by a tendency in gay speech surrounding emphasis.

Lastly, I'd like to mention, gratefully, that Gaudio does not attempt to speculatively explain why gay speech exhibits identifiable patterns. I say that I am grateful because attempting to do so would sidetrack the goal of progress; the academic world does not need any more garbage surrounding the 'nature vs. nurture debate.' Now, don't get me wrong; it's not a useless thing to discuss. It's just that academia is already saturated with reiterations of the same tired arguments in favor of one or the other, and now, as has become more popular recently, favoring a mixture of the two. If a researcher has some new profound insight about the debate, it would be great to read about it. But we already have enough speculation, and it is refreshing to see that Gaudio resisted the temptation to tell us something for which he has no evidence.

It is overall an academically sound, well-written piece, with plenty of data, and a straightforward, scientific tone. The sole criticism I have of the experiment is that his sample size was too small to make any magnifiable conclusions, with only 16 speaker-subjects and 13 listener-subjects. Funding is probably to blame for that.

- Z Shihab


* Is it not a bit delightful that an audio expert would be named Gaudio?

Node your homework.

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