Intonation differences in male & female speech

Written by jennifer leigh
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Intonation differences in male & female speech
Males and females use different pitch ranges. (woman and man talking silhouettes image by Slobodan Djajic from

Male and female speakers have different speech patterns, ranges and intonations (the rise and fall of the pitch of the voice in speech). Some of these differences are attributed to physiological differences between the sexes, while others are possibly societal or cultural. In the February 2001 issue of the "Journal of Sociolinguists," authors Nicola Daly and Paul Warren examined the areas of pitch range and pitch dynamism relating to male and female speech and found measurable differences.

Pitch Range

Pitch range is one way of looking at intonation differences between males and females. Calculating pitch range requires examining the differences between minimum and maximum pitch during speaking. Overall, Daly and Warren found that females have a wider pitch range. Pitch range can be equated with a greater range of emotion during speech, which may be more culturally developed among females. Males exhibit a pitch range closer to a monotone, which may be culturally developed to show less emotion. Another theory for this difference in range is the possibility that a female is more in tune with the person she is speaking with and therefore exaggerates her intonation in order to achieve a certain interactional goal.

Pitch Dynamism

Daly and Warren's examination of pitch dynamism concludes that males and females have differences in the frequency and rate of their pitch changes, and the variation of their pitch around the speaker's average pitch value. Males generally have less pitch dynamism in their speech patterns than females do. Theories regarding this difference are similar to theories about pitch range, suggesting that females show more emotion during conversation.

Age of Speakers

In the 1992 issue of the "Journal of the International Phonetic Association," authors David Britain and John Newman found that the age of a speaker affects speech intonation insofar as pitch is concerned. Speakers between the ages of 20 and 29 have the most pronounced gender differences in their pitches. This may be attributed to gender identities that form during the young-adult years. The authors also found that children exhibit differences in intonation before they reach an age where physiological changes in speech occur. This may be because they have a strong need to begin gender-identifying at a young age.

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