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Paya Herrero, Begona (2009): Voice and Identity: A contrastive study of identity perception in voice. Dissertation, LMU München: Fakultät für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften



In my doctoral thesis I have focused on the suprasegmental level of language in order to find out which combinations of prosodic features convey not only content information but also information about our personality, our attitudes and our emotions, that is, information about our identity. After considering different definitions of the term “identity”, I come to the conclusion that “identity” is a relational term that establishes a parallelism between two domains: the domain of individuality and the domain of collectiveness. In this regard, theories from cognitive linguistics, radical constructivism and radical experientialism are studied and applied to show how our identity is a necessary construction expressed through different means. Moreover, the theoretical part of the dissertation bases itself on the notion of embodiment from the cognitive field and gives great importance to the role played by perception in the use of our voice. The theoretical implications are then verified in an empirical part: 60 female voices (20 German, 20 American, 20 Spanish) are recorded in interviews and analysed phonetically with Praat. After classifying the voices in terms of nationality and in terms of personality groups (introversion/extroversion) vocal aspects such as length, average pitch, intensity and speech rate are measured. Although the results show nationality differences in pitch and speech rate there are no concrete tendencies observed for the personality parameters of introversion/extroversion, even though we do have common expectations about how an introvert or an extrovert speaks. These results are also checked statistically. In a second step, all the voice labels used by the candidates interviewed are collected, classified according to their frequency and compared with results given by certain corpora tools. This shows clear vocal stereotypes: for the three nationalities studied, deep and raspy voices are judged to be sexy and high and squeaky voices are considered unpleasant. Phonetic voice labels are preferred to impressionistic voice labels. Certain voice labels such as sweet or soft seem more language dependant. A comparison between judgements made on the own voice (in terms of frequency, intensity and speech rate) and the results from the phonetic analysis proves that non-experts have an accurate self perception of voice, which is then confirmed in a perception test by using high and deep voices as stimuli. This test proves that independently of whether we understand the language heard or not, we are capable of guessing correctly basic emotions and attitudes by interpreting the prosodic cues available. For certain voice correlations between vocal cues and identity cues a verticality schema has been found. As a conclusion, by contrasting theory and practice it can be stated that our voice encodes the dichotomy of our identity very well (as unique beings and as members of a collectivity) and that voice production cannot be understood without voice perception and vice-versa. Both phenomena are linked to our embodied condition and our cognition.