LINGUIST List 13.2326

Tue Sep 17 2002

Disc: New: Vocal Accommodation; Re NYT Article

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Richard Sproat, Media/Disc: NYT, "Research Brings New Dimension to 'a Candidate's Voice'"

Message 1: Media/Disc: NYT, "Research Brings New Dimension to 'a Candidate's Voice'"

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2002 09:31:56 -0400
From: Richard Sproat <>
Subject: Media/Disc: NYT, "Research Brings New Dimension to 'a Candidate's Voice'"

The New York Times science section today has an article entitled
"Research Brings New Dimension to 'a Candidate's Voice'"
outlining research by Stanford Gregory and Timothy Gallagher which
investigates vocal accommodation, whereby people who perceive
themselves to be of lower social status will modify their voices to be
more in line with those whom they perceive as being of higher social
status. Supposedly the "research focuses on accommodation within a
little-noticed range of vocal tones at 500 cycles per second, or
hertz, and which fall below the range of spoken words." (False, by the
way: you can low-pass filter a speech signal at 500 Hz and even though
all of the higher formant information is missing, the speech is still
surprisingly intelligible.)

The recent work is published in the current issue of Social Psychology
Quarterly, which unfortunately I don't have easy access to. Is anyone
familiar with this work? A search on Google for Stanford Gregory
reveals very little, other than a couple of previous press releases,
and a reference in one chapter of Klaus von Heusinger's
Habilitationsschrift. That discussion implies of Gregory's earlier
work that the main feature of accommodation is change (presumably
lowering) of fundamental frequency, which I can easily believe. But
the NYT article states that the new research uses fast Fourier
transforms, and I'm wondering what additional information these are
likely to give. Certainly if you lower your fundamental you are going
to see a change in the spectrum, but the question is whether there are
any additional features of "accommodation" that are not fully
explained by a lowering of fundamental frequency.

Richard Sproat 
Information Systems and Analysis Research
AT&T Labs -- Research, Shannon Laboratory
180 Park Avenue, Room B207, P.O.Box 971
Florham Park, NJ 07932-0000
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