Hormones and temporal components of speech: sex differences and effects of menstrual cyclicity on speech

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Whiteside, S.P. ; Hanson, A. ; Cowell, P.E. (2004)
  • Publisher: Elsevier

Voice onset time (VOT) is a salient acoustic parameter of speech which signals the “voiced” and “voiceless” status of plosives in English (e.g. the initial sound in ‘bat’ vs. the initial sound in ‘pat’). As a micro-temporal acoustic parameter, VOT may be sensitive to changes in hormones which may affect the neuromuscular systems involved in speech production. This study adopted a novel approach by investigating the effects of menstrual cycle phase and sex on VOT. VOT data representing the 6 plosives of English (/p b t d k g/) were examined for 7 women (age 20-23 years) at two phases of the menstrual cycle (day 18-25: High Estrogen and Progesterone; day 2-5: Low Estrogen and Progesterone). Results indicated that menstrual cycle phase had a significant interaction with the identity of the plosive (F (5,30) = 5.869, P < .002). Menstrual cycle phase also had significant effects on the contrasts between cognate voiced and voiceless plosives (F (1, 6) = 11.444, P < .02); samples from the high hormone phase displayed an enhanced voiced/voiceless contrast. Subsequently, VOT data samples from the two phases of the menstrual cycle were compared with those from 5 men in order to explore sex differences at different phases of the menstrual cycle. Low hormone phase samples displayed no significant sex differences for either VOT values (F (1,10) = 2.085, P > .05), or the contrast between voiced and voiceless cognates (F (1,10) = .407, P > .05). In contrast, the high hormone phase VOT samples displayed significant plosive by sex interactions (F (5,50) = 4.442, P < .005). In addition, significant sex differences were found for the contrasts between cognate voiced and voiceless plosives (F (1,10) = 5.019, P < .05); the women displayed a more marked voiced/voiceless contrast. The findings suggest that ovarian hormones play some role in shaping some temporal components of speech.
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