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Arch Sex Behav. 2008 Feb;37(1):188-204.

The Queen's English: an alternative, biosocial hypothesis for the distinctive features of "gay speech".

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.


Popular stereotypes concerning the speech of homosexuals typically attribute speech patterns characteristic of the opposite-sex, i.e., broadly feminized speech in gay men and broadly masculinized speech in lesbian women. A small body of recent empirical research has begun to address the subject more systematically and to consider specific mechanistic hypotheses to account for the potentially distinctive features of homosexual speech. Results do not yet fully endorse the stereotypes but they do not entirely discount them either; nor do they cleanly favor any single mechanistic hypothesis. To contribute to this growing body of research, we report acoustic analyses of 2,875 vowel sounds from a balanced set of 125 speakers representing heterosexual and homosexual individuals of each sex from southern Alberta, Canada. Analyses focused on voice pitch and formant frequencies which together determine the principle perceptual features of vowels. There was no significant difference in mean voice pitch between heterosexual and homosexual men or between heterosexual and homosexual women, but there were significant differences in the formant frequencies of vowels produced by both homosexual groups compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Formant frequency differences were specific to only certain vowel sounds and some could be attributed to basic differences in body size between heterosexual and homosexual speakers. The remaining formant frequency differences were not obviously due to differences in vocal tract anatomy between heterosexual and homosexual speakers, nor did they reflect global feminization or masculinization of vowel production patterns in homosexual men and women, respectively. The vowel-specific differences observed could reflect social modeling processes in which only certain speech patterns of the opposite-sex, or of same-sex homosexuals, are selectively adopted. However, we introduce an alternative biosocial hypothesis, specifically that the distinctive, vowel-specific features of homosexual speakers relative to heterosexual speakers arise incidentally as a product of broader psychobehavioral differences between the two groups that are, in turn, continuous with and flow from the physiological processes that affect sexual orientation to begin with.

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