Perceptions of female sexual orientation: F0 perceptions and the importance of listener identity
2022-04-14, 15:30–16:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 3

This talk will present findings from a perception survey that sought to find evidence of whether listeners perceive a “gay voice” for female speakers in British English. While the idea of a male “gay voice” has been more frequently researched (see Rogers and Smyth, 2003; Levon, 2006; Maegaard and Pharao, 2016), there has been far less research that considers a female “gay voice”. This research seeks to fill the gap in female sexual orientation studies, as well as broaden the scope of research by using data from a self-identified Northern, working-class female speaker.

The data was collected through an online survey that presented the electronically manipulated voice of a native Yorkshire British English speaker. The stimuli were spoken by the same speaker and were digitally altered to either increase or decrease the speaker’s average fundamental frequency, while keeping the speech rate constant relative to that of the original sample. Fundamental frequency was chosen based on earlier research on lesbian speech (Moonwomon-Baird, 1997; Waksler, 2001; Van Borsel, Vandaele and Corthals, 2013), as well as qualitative research from my own previous study. Listeners were asked to listen to a series of sentences and make judgements about the speaker by rating traits on a 7-point Likert scale from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree”. These traits included “friendly”, “intelligent”, “feminine”, “trustworthy”, “homosexual (i.e., lesbian)”, and “low pitch”.

The results show several interesting findings on how participants perceive sexual orientation in female speakers. There was an overall trend of participants rating “Neither agree nor disagree”, the central/neutral option, when asked if the stimulus sounded “homosexual (i.e., lesbian)”. This is juxtaposed with the willingness to rate all of the other presented qualities using a larger portion of the scale. However, when participants did rate the stimuli, there were clear patterns to sentences rated as more or less “homosexual”.

There were also compelling patterns to how listeners rated based on their own identity, such as their gender, sexual orientation, and the region they were from. Therefore, this paper will not only consider the results as a whole on sexual orientation perception, but will also demonstrate the importance of individual identity in these perceptions. This analysis of respondent identity has not previously been strongly considered in sexual orientation perception studies.


Levon, E. (2006) ‘Hearing “gay”: Prosody, interpretation, and the affective judgments of men’s speech’, American Speech, 81(1), pp. 56–78.
Maegaard, M. and Pharao, N. (2016) ‘/s/ Variation and Perceptions of Male Sexuality in Denmark’, in Levon, E. and Mendes, R. B. (eds) Language, Sexuality, and Power: Studies in Intersectional Sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 88–104.
Moonwomon-Baird, B. (1997) ‘Towards a Study of Lesbian Speech’, in Livia, A. and Hall, K. (eds) Queerly Phrased. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 202–213.
Rogers, H. and Smyth, R. (2003) ‘Phonetic differences between gay- and straight-sounding male speakers of North American English’, Proceedings of the 15th international congress of phonetic sciences, Barcelona, 3-9 August, pp. 1855–1858.
Van Borsel, J., Vandaele, J. and Corthals, P. (2013) ‘Pitch and pitch variation in lesbian women’, Journal of Voice. Elsevier Ltd, 27(5), pp. 656.e13-656.e16. doi: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2013.04.008.
Waksler, S. (2001) ‘Pitch range and women’s sexual orientation’, Word, 52(1), pp. 69–77. doi: 10.1080/00437956.2001.11432508.

Salina is an early career research who focuses on language and identity. In particular, she is interested in gender, sexuality, and sport and how these may interact. She recently finished her PhD at the University of York and has been a Teaching Associate in Variationist Sociolinguistics at the University of Sheffield.