Differences Between Male & Female Speech

Written by nathan joseph
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Differences Between Male & Female Speech
There are physical and neurological differences in the way males and females speak. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

The adult female vocal tract is on average 5.5 inches whereas the average male vocal tract is 6.6 inches. These physical differences between the sexes cause a difference in the way they speak. Not only do the pitch and frequency differ, there are also differences in word-forming patterns such as articulation and speed. These changes are not explained by differences in the vocal cords, but rather by differences that are rooted deep within the human brain.

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While it's true that female vocal folds are shorter, lighter and vibrate at approximately 220 Hz -- twice that of the average male -- this cannot be entirely explained by physical differences. Scientists believe that the difference in pitch is a learned behaviour that occurs as a way to make one sex more desirable to the opposite sex. Pitch also changes with the language spoken, as some languages, such as French, tend to require more higher pitch sounds.


Males and females also articulate words differently. Female vowel articulations tend to be fuller and more properly pronounced than those of males. Females will complete all the proper mouth and tongue movements more often then men, who tend to take shortcuts. There are also differences in specific letter articulations; for example, females pronounce the vowels u and o similarly. Men will pronounce u and o significantly differently.

Voice Onset Time

There are differences in the length of time men and women give between certain letter groups. According the study, "Phonetic Differences Between Male and Female Speech," by Adrian P. Simpson, professor of speech at the Institute of German Linguistics, published in the March 2009 issue of "Language and Linguistics Compass," girls at the age of 11 had the longest onset time of all groups studied. This means that girls had the greatest length of time between saying the letters p and b or between t and d. There is no set rule as which sex has a longer or shorter voice onset time, as this changes with age and language spoken. The only clear conclusion is that there are consistent measurable differences between the sexes.

Duration and Reduction

The same study also examined 29 male and 25 female speakers, and found differences in the durations of male and female vowels when speaking. Females' vowels last, on average, 11 per cent longer than those of their male counterparts. Scientists concluded that males reduce the length of a vowel sound more often than females do. That is, men shorten the sound of the vowel to be improper.

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