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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

. . . 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

But:  this ain’t gonna be that kind of 12-Step Program

The New Year is just around the corner and setting goals is a common endeavor (maybe even torture) for many of us.   But New Years’ Resolutions rarely bring about the desired effect – to permanently change some kind of behavior.

I know this.  You know this.

Yet, here it is December 30th and I’m thinking about next year.  Let’s see, will I commit to getting more exercise (how many times has that been on the list) or losing a few pounds (yup, that one’s been there for the past few years too) or eating healthier, eating less sugar (sorry to say this goal has showed up too often without a good outcome)?  And yet, I do this to myself each year right about now–look at the weak areas in my life, create a wish list and hope that they in fact get resolved.

It appears that 40 – 45% of us set at least one New Year’s goal.  However, according to a study by author and psychologist Richard Wiseman, not many of us keep our resolutions past January. His research found that 52 percent of resolution-makers were confident that they’d achieve their goals, yet only 12 percent actually succeeded.

What is the secret behind those who succeed versus those who don’t? It appears that those who take meaningful steps to achieve their resolutions — setting step-by-step goals or telling their friends and family of their intentions, for example — were far more likely to achieve their desired change than those who made no specific commitments.  Those who worked within a group system (letting natural group dynamics generate motivation) succeeded more than those who worked alone.

So, what are the programs that really do help people make life-transforming permanent changes?

Twelve-Step Programs provide a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. As summarized by the American Psychological Association, the process involves the following:

  • Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion;
  • Recognizing a higher power that can provide strength;
  • Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
  • Making amends for these errors;
  • Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior.

The 12 steps first appeared in 1939 in the book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism. These 12 steps became the guiding spiritual principles for recovery from alcoholism which members of Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) use.

Today, 12-Step programs are quite ubiquitous and include (short list):

AA – Alcoholics Anonymous
ACA – Adult Children of Alcoholics
Al-Anon/Alateen, for friends and family members of alcoholics
CA – Cocaine Anonymous
CoDA – Co-Dependents Anonymous, for people working to end patterns of dysfunctional relationships and develop functional and healthy relationships
DA – Debtors Anonymous
GA – Gamblers Anonymous
NA – Narcotics Anonymous
OA – Overeaters Anonymous
SA – Smokers Anonymous
SLAA – Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
WA – Workaholics Anonymous
WA – Workaholics Anonymous

What might your program to discover/uncover your true feminine voice look like?  What one-step-at-a-time program would finally give you the voice you want?

But, this ain’t gonna be that kind of 12-Step Program.

I’ve organized your 12-step program so you can easily and simply complete one step each month.

Those of you who have worked with Fundamentals of Your Feminine Voice or Beyond the Fundamentals, already have an understanding of the “Nine Elements of an Exceptional Feminine Voice.” I’ve added three more elements for a total of twelve.

Each month I’m going to walk hand-in- hand with you through these steps.  I’ll provide practical, easy-to-use strategies and techniques for each of the elements.  It is the mastery of these elements that will finally help you sound like the woman you are.

The 12 Steps to Sounding

Step 1 January:  Feminine Posture       — long, lean and elegant is always feminine!

Step 2 February:  Belly Breathing       – where it all begins, air is power.

Step 3 March:     Pitch                           –getting into the right neighborhood.

Step 4 April:        Voice Quality             -–a little hoarse is not a little pony.

Step 5 May:         Loudness                 – can you hear me now?

Step 6 June:             Resonance   – what divides the women from the men.

Step 7 July:               Articulation    – no more mumble jumble.

Step 8 August:          Phrasing       – the first of the supra-segmentals of speech.

Step 9 September: Pacing (tempo)  – not too fast, not too slow, just right.

Step 10 October:      Melodic Intonation – gliding up then stepping down.

Step 11 November: Fluency          – smoothly flowing like golden honey.

Step 12 December: Transfer of Learning – bringing it all together.

Whew!


On second thought, maybe the original 12-Step Program does offer something for us.  Let’s take a closer look at their ‘guiding spiritual principles.’

  • Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion

“Hi, I’m Michelle and I’m powerless over my voice.”  Ok, this has some potential.   Because, isn’t there some truth in it?  You have tried and tried to create a feminine voice, but you’re not there yet. You’ve hit the wall.  If you’re reading this, you may be powerless over your voice and you need a program of discovery.

  • Recognizing a higher power that can provide strength

What is the source of your inspiration? Where do you find the motivation to practice day after day?  What inner resource do you call upon to help you persevere in this difficult and long process?

  • Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member)

Past errors!  Wrong directions!  Heading south when your direction is true north!  There are techniques, exercises and strategies that work, and those that don’t.  Usually a qualified person (your speech pathologist/voice feminization specialist) can show you what you’re doing wrong and can direct you to the approach that works.

  • Making amends for these errors

Making amends might look like self-forgiveness.  Developing acceptance, self-love and a gentle, loving manner of working with your voice will absolutely move you in the right direction.

  • Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior.

This guiding principle of a 12-Step program is also what we’re all about!  You must develop a new set of vocal behaviors that you can use everyday of your life!

A year through the steps!

You can and will sound feminine with a clear step-by-step program and the care and loving support of your sisters who journey with you.

Don’t be like Coop (see the little kitty photo above).  There is no rescue party.  You are it!

Just us

One year

One small step at a time.

Next year at this time you can be right here again–wishing, hoping, yet not taking action. Or you can finally get to work and make this year’s resolution a reality.

Are you with me?

Think about what  we might be able to accomplish together!!

I’d love to hear from you.

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado


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