Effect of Voice Quality on Perceived Height of English Vowels

A. J. Lotto, L. L. Holt, K. R. Kluender

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Across a variety of languages, phonation type and vocal-tract shape systematically covary in vowel production. Breathy phonation tends to accompany vowels produced with a raised tongue body and/or advanced tongue root. A potential explanation for this regularity, based on a hypothesized interaction between the acoustic effects of vocal-tract shape and phonation type, is evaluated. It is suggested that increased spectral tilt and first-harmonic amplitude resulting from breathy phonation interact with the lower-frequency first formant resulting from a raised tongue body to produce a perceptually ‘higher’ vowel. To test this hypothesis, breathy and modal versions of vowel series modelled after male and female productions of English vowel pairs /i/ and /i/, /u/ and /Ω/, and /∧/ and /a/ were synthesized. Results indicate that for most cases, breathy voice quality led to more tokens being identified as the higher vowel (i.e. /i/, /u/, /à∧/). In addition, the effect of voice quality is greater for vowels modelled after female productions. These results are consistent with a hypothesized perceptual explanation for the covariation of phonation type and tongue-root advancement in West African languages. The findings may also be relevant to gender differences in phonation type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-93
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics
  • Linguistics and Language


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