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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

Our speaking voice naturally conveys information about each of us.  Our voice serves as a primary means by which we project our physical (gender & age), psychological (happy or sad) and social characteristics (confident or reticent) to those with whom we’re communicating.

Although voice is central to a wide range of human experiences, it is difficult to provide a single, useful, all-purpose definition of voice, even though several meanings of this term are in common use. Voice can be defined narrowly as sound produced by vibration of the vocal folds, or broadly as essentially synonymous with speech, or referred to collectively/metaphorically as in the Latin phrase vox populi (“voice of the people”).

The elements of phonation and articulation, pitch and amplitude variations, and temporal patterning all contribute to how a speaker sounds, and broad definitions of voice reflect this fact.

In regard to feminizing your voice, we’ve narrowly defined your voice in terms of:

This month, April, we’re looking at Step 4 in your “Year through the Steps.”  We’re defining voice quality very narrowly – the manner of vibration of your vocal folds.

Our voices can sound breathy (video) or scratchy (video) or just right (video). A breathy voice (when there is no medical reason for it) is often a style of speaking that is very connected to personality (very feminine) or circumstance (speaking softly in a movie theater). What’s happening mechanically is that the vocal folds aren’t completely approximating (completely coming to mid-line) when you speak. Listen to this breathy female voice of an actress who is a voice over artist.

Breathy Female Voice

The airiness you hear in her voice is related to the manner in which she is speaking.

In this next video, listen to a young woman who has a cold (infectious or acute laryngitis) and has a scratchy voice. The sound you hear in her voice is because the vocal folds are not vibrating in a smooth and symmetric fashion.  In a “normal” voice, the vocal folds are entrained to oscillate so that they come together and blow apart again at the exact same millisecond. This oscillating behavior changes when the vocal folds are inflamed due to a upper respiratory infection (URI) and the resulting sound is a hoarse voice.

SICK VOICE

I think she was putting on a sicker voice than maybe she really had.  What do you think?

Normal Vocal Cord Vibration

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Why is all this important to me?”  Here’s why.

The quality of your voice reveals important information about the state of health of your vocal cords (folds).  If you have specific medical problems such as acid reflux, allergies or chronic sinusitis (to name a few), the voice is often affected.

Are you hoarse after eating?
Is your voice scratchy in the morning?
When your sinuses act up does it affect your voice?

Another important consideration is that training your voice is not without its pitfalls.  Hoarseness, soreness and voice fatigue often DO occur and MUST be treated effectively.  Be aware of how your throat feels and how your voice sounds after you’ve been practicing your voice exercises.

Use this simple rating scale.  Generally, how would you rate the quality of your voice?  Breathy? Weak? Airy? If so, assign a value to it, -10 would be an extremely weak voice. I suspect that very few of you reading this would score yourselves a -10, -9, -8, or -7.

If you’re purposefully using a breathy voice to sound more feminine, are you happy with the sound? Is it functional, meaning does your voice carry in a noisy restaurant? Does a breathy voice really convey the essence of who you are?  Is it really feminine?

I would rate the breathiness of the female sample video above as -1 or -2.

Then consider if your voice is scratchy or hoarse.  I would rate the “sick voice” from the video above about +5 or +6. The hoarseness in her voice definitely draws attention to itself, but it’s not so severe that we can’t understand what she’s saying.  Are you hoarse?  If so, what does that say about you? Tired? Sick? Allergic?

How would you rate your voice over all?

Step 4:  Voice Quality

For the month of April, your goal is to listen carefully to the different qualities of people’s voices according to the above continuum.  Try to separate pitch and resonance, (which we’ll talk about next month) and make some decisions about what you think of their voice quality and what you feel that reveals about them (health, mood, personality).

Can you find a sample of a feminine voice you love that isn’t breathy?  Can you find a sample of a feminine voice that sounds raspy but not irritatingly so?

I’d LOVE to know how you’re doing with Step 4. Stay in touch over the month.

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado

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. . . important answers to your ultimate questions.

Q:          A very common question I’m asked is, “Can I really feminize my voice?”

A:         The simple answer is, yes, of course you can.  The vocal folds (vocal cords) consist of two shelves of muscle and flexible tissue, which lengthen and contract to increase and decrease pitch.  The strap muscles of the neck can be trained to keep your larynx raised in order to create a smaller throat space.  A smaller resonating chamber increases the resonant frequencies (formant frequencies), which will give you a feminine ring and enhance your voice tremendously.  These two elements (pitch and resonance) among others (articulation, melodic intonation, fluency, etc.) can be trained over a period of time.

Q:        How long will it take to feminize my voice?

A:         As you know, this is not an overnight matter. The coding/programming needed to feminine your voice is achieved by paying close attention to the specifics of each technique and practicing a little every day.  You’ll want to create a goal for yourself to build up to practicing for 30 minutes twice each day.  In my experience it usually takes 6 months to a year to achieve a passable feminine voice.  It might take more than one year to create a beautiful feminine voice.

Q:        Why do some people (like Rachel and Marion on your YouTube channel) achieve a beautiful voice so quickly?

A:         Excellent question!  It can be very frustrating when others zoom ahead of us while we’ve been slaving over our tasks and working hard.  Individual differences account for some of this.  Some people have inherent/innate skills that allow them to train their voices (or anything) easier than others. However, you cannot get anything without working for it.  If you don’t practice you won’t improve.  Even people with above average innate skills must practice. You must PRACTICE-PRACTICE-PRACTICE. Simply “trying to speak in a feminine voice” won’t do it.

Q:        What might slow or hinder my success in feminizing my voice?

A:         There are a few critical factors for you to consider.

  1. Your general physical health will affect the sound of your voice.  The vocal folds reside in your body, so when you’re not well, they aren’t either.  People who suffer from allergies, asthma, or acid reflux (to name a few) might have trouble adjusting their pitch, vocalizing without tension, and breathing effectively.
  2. 2. Emotional well-being is another factor.  Let’s face it; transitioning can be (and often is) difficult.  When you’re stressed, many things can happen—some may include holding your breath or tightening your jaw, throat and shoulders—and this muscle tension affects your voice.  Sleep, hydration, what you ingest, how much you talk (or don’t talk), all affect your voice.  Most voice therapists provide a vocal hygiene program for their patients.  I provide FRIDAY’S FIVE FINE V FEM TIPS on my website Ask Kathe Perez.

Q:        If I really can feminize my voice, how do I unravel the complicated maze of things I read on the Internet?

A:         Those of you who are excellent at Internet searches, will want to pay attention to sites that provide a structured, systematic approach. Because there is so much to sift through, begin at the beginning.  And where exactly is that?  I am currently providing my beloved clients with “A Year Through the Steps” on Ask Kathe Perez.  January provides you with Step 1 — Feminine posture — and each following month I’ll provide another step.  By the end of the year, if you have gone through the steps with careful, thoughtful attention, you will achieve a passable feminine voice.

Thanks for your questions; I always love hearing from you!

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado

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Fundamentals of Your Feminine Voice

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