Guys from the UK and India seem to have higher-pitched voices than Americans. Similarly, I have heard comments from Japanese-American women that they make an effort to lower their voices when speaking English in the US in order to be taken more seriously.

Are there some accents within English for which the typical vocal pitch and timbre is high or low, or is this a personal, idiosyncratic dynamic of language?

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    Adversely, I find that Americans have higher pitched voices than British people (I work for a large American company with a London office). I think there is potentially a higher pitch with some accents, although it is not easy to measure. – Sam May 23 '13 at 20:13
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    I'm not convinced it's a dynamic of language. Surely it's principally physiological. Physiology might be an inherited characteristic, which would tend to group similar voices together, but cause and effect is that way round. – Andrew Leach May 23 '13 at 21:04
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    My sense is that most British dialects, including RP, employ a wider range of pitches than US dialects, so there's more contrast. – StoneyB May 23 '13 at 21:45
  • @Sam: Interesting counterexample! Our perceptions are certainly influenced by our cultural biases. Maybe we're both right, and it's just Expats who have higher voices. – Mixo Lydian May 23 '13 at 22:06
  • @Andrew: Your idea that it's principally physiological led me to "Speaker Perception and Social Behavior" (Krauss & Pardo). Many factors interact with speech quality, including dialect, physiology, and social situation. One answer to my question could be, "Dialect is only one of many factors that influence vocal quality." – Mixo Lydian May 23 '13 at 22:07

I was acquainted once with a fellow who had undergone a laryngectomy. He used an electrolarynx when speaking, and his Lancashire accent was quite unaffected.

I concluded from this that vocal pitch has little to do with accent (or, strictly, I suppose, little to do with a Lancashire accent).

  • Wow, that's a clear example of a purely physiological impact on speech. I've heard accent variation through electrolarynxes too. But I've run into many folks (with complete larynxes) who purposely lower or raise their voice after moving to a new region or country. Is there any linguistic evidence that variation within this dimension exists across dialects of English, or could it be their insecurity about adapting to a new place? – Mixo Lydian May 23 '13 at 23:29
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    @MixoLydian Surely they change the pitch of their voice to fit in with the prevailing physiology of their new location rather than their last location. Call that "insecurity" if you like; it could just as well be classed as "survival technique". – Andrew Leach May 24 '13 at 5:26

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