Aug
27

How to Sound Feminine One Step at a Time Step 8 August: Phrasing – the first of the suprasegmentals of speech.

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WHAT IS PROSODY?

Prosody (pronounced pross-ə-dee) is the study of the timing and rhythm of speech and how these features contribute to meaning of what we say.

When one studies prosody, one studies the suprasegmental features of speech. These features of speech typically apply to a level above that of the individual phoneme or sound (the consonants and vowels), and very often to sequences of words (in prosodic phrases), and are referred to as suprasegmentals.

Feminizing your voice is so much more than pitch and resonance.  Your prosody–melody, flow, rhythm/tempo, the timing, the pauses, the phrase length, etc.–ALL communicate something about you.  These prosodic features of you (the speaker) or what you say (the utterance) reflect your emotional state; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and mental focus/attention; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or choice of vocabulary.

Prosodic features are suprasegmental, because they are not confined to any one segment or phoneme, but occur in some higher level of an utterance. These prosodic units are the actual phonetic “spurts” or chunks of speech that hold the meaning of what we’re saying. They need not correspond to grammatical units such as phrases and clauses, though they may–these facts suggest insights into how the brain processes speech.

There are small but systematic differences in the way that men and women use language,
both in terms of what they say and how they choose to say it.

How you choose to say it is the essence of prosody.

A compelling study (2008) – “Gender Differences in Language Use: An Analysis of 14,000 Text Samples –asked that age-old question: Do men and women use language differently?

These researchers examined language usage of men and women in a large, heterogeneous sample of written and spoken texts. For the women (who contributed 8,353) text files to the study, language was more likely to be used for discussing people and what they were doing, as well as communicating internal processes to others, including doubts. Thoughts, emotions, senses, other people, negations, and verbs in present and past tense figured high on the list of words that women used more than men. For the men (who contributed 5,970 files), language was more likely to serve as a repository of labels for external events, objects, and processes. Along with discussion of occupation, money and sports, were technical linguistic features such as numbers, articles (like “a”, “an”, “the”), prepositions, and multi-syllabic words. Profanity added emphasis to male language.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, men and women were indistinguishable in their references to sexuality, anger, time, their use of first-person plural, the number of words and question marks employed, and the insertion of qualifiers in the form of exclusion words (e.g. but, although).

The results of this study provides further insights:

Different words. Women’s greater use of pronouns mirrored previous work by other researchers. This study also found that women used more intensive adverbs (e.g. carefully, 
eagerly, 
easily, 
loudly, 
quickly, 
quietly, well).

Successful replications for men’s language included substantially greater use of numbers, articles, multi-syllabic words, and profanity.

Reflecting the mixed bag of earlier work on emotional references, women use more affect words, but this was not restricted to positive emotions, as earlier studies have suggested.  Women were more likely than men to refer both to positive feelings and to negative emotions—specifically, sadness and anxiety. The previous finding of a male advantage in anger words was not replicated. The most striking discovery was that women, not men, were the more prolific users of first-person singular pronouns (i.e. I, me, and my).

This study found no evidence of any differences in overall word count between men and women in their language usage.

Different phrases. Polite forms of such phrases as “Would you mind if … ,” or “Should I get the …” appeared more often in women’s texts.  Women were more likely to hedge, by using such phrases as “I guess” but were no more likely than men to use words from the tentative category (e.g., maybe, perhaps). The use of phrases, such as “I guess” may reflect previous findings that women use more polite forms and are reluctant to force their views on other people.

Different sentences. This study found a small difference favoring women in use of negation (words such as no, not, never). They failed to find any tendency for women to use question marks, contrasting with earlier reports that women asked more questions and inserted more tag questions into their sentences.

Different messages. It is informative to consider the types of topics that men and women use their words to talk about. This study provides strong evidence that women seem to have more of a “rapport” style, discussing social topics and expressing internal thoughts and feelings more often, whereas men “report” more often, describing the quantity and location of objects.

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Over the next couple of months, we’re going to consider several prosodic features–the naturalizing elements of the feminine voice, which in my voice feminization training method include:  phrasing, pacing, melodic intonation and fluency.

Phrasing:

Your breath bookends each phrase you speak:  breathe – talk—breathe.  The root components of posture, breathing and pitch which were the first three steps in your year through the steps, hopefully are quite habituated by this time, eight months after you began your steps.

Continue to be metacognitive about your breath flow – in-breath; talk; in-breathe; talk, in-breath…

Why is phrasing important to you?  Let’s look at the practical side of this particular prosodic element – phrasing.  We just learned that women (more than men) tend to use polite forms of phrases such as,  “Would you please…”  “Is it possible for you to…”  “Might I ask you to…” to request an action or make a command of someone.  These extra words lengthen the phrase and thus require more air.  Notice that!

Exercise #1:

In-breath:  feel your belly gently expand as you breathe in.  Count: “1 – 2 – 3”.  Be metacognitive about the out flow.  Did you have too much air left over?  Did you use most of the air to say this three-syllable phrase? Did you forget about the other elements when you were just focused on phrasing?

Exercise #2:

Phrasing literally refers to words per breath.  So, how can you integrate the breath and maintain the other elements (such as pitch, articulation and resonance)?  You chunk down the overarching skill into manageable pieces and phrasing is one of the ways to do this.

Let’s consider some polite forms of requests or commands.

  • May I use your pen, please?
  • Would you mind bringing me a glass of water, please?
  • I guess I need to use your phone for a minute; mine doesn’t seem to have a connection.
  • Might I ask you for directions; I’m lost.

Use the bookend idea.  Take a gentle in-breath, feel the airflow outward as you speak, then take a gentle in-breath again. Voilà! The breath bookends the phrase.

NOTE: you don’t need a lot of air for these simple phrases.  In fact, many people take too much air and end up feeling light-headed when they speak.

Now, decide which element you want to train.  For example, if you want to be sure you’re mastering your feminine pitch tune your voice to the A3 pitch as you already know how to do.  Watch your frequency tuner as you use your phrasing technique and repeat the phrases above.

Exercise #3:

As we just learned from this study, men and women tend to talk about different things.  As women, we appear to have more of a “rapport” style of communicating.  We talk about social topics, our internal thoughts and feelings, and we use chit-chat with girl friends to process our experiences.

Create a list of things your feminine self likes to chat about: how you feel, what news story has you worked up, what thoughts are waking you up in the middle of the night, what great joy you’ve experienced, what deep fear is keeping you realizing your dream.

In case you’re feeling stuck for ideas, try this blog post Knight Stivender’s  Life in Full.

Now, shape these ideas into phrases and practice. Oh, and remember to record yourself occasionally. You’ll be shocked in about six months what you once thought was “pretty good.”

Step 8:  Phrasing

For August, your goal is to observe polite forms of request and command phrases.  Then create a list of phrases that would apply to you and your world.  Now practice, practice, practice.  And always, use your metacognitive and proprioceptive strategies.

I’d LOVE to know how you’re doing with Step 8. Stay in touch over the month.

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado

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