Laura L. Koenig –
Adelphi University
158 Cambridge Avenue
Garden City NY 11530

Susanne Fuchs –
Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS)
Schützenstr. 18
10117 Berlin (Germany)

Annette Gerstenberg –
University of Potsdam, Department of Romance Studies
Am Neuen Palais 10
14467 Potsdam (Germany)

Moriah Rastegar –
Adelphi University
158 Cambridge Avenue
Garden City NY 11530

Popular version of the paper: 1aSCb4
Presented: December 7, 2020 at 10:15 AM – 11:00 AM EST

As we age, we change in many ways:  How we look, the way we dress, and how we speak.  Some of these changes are biological, and others are social.  All are potentially informative to those we interact with.

age age

Captions: “Younger (left) and older (right). Image obtained under the publicly-available creative commons licence.  Aging manipulation courtesy of Jolanda Fuchs.”


The human voice is a rich source of information on speaker characteristics, and studies indicate that listeners are relatively accurate in judging the age of an unknown person they hear on the phone.  Vocal signals carry information on (a) the sizes of the mouth and throat cavities, which change as we produce different vowels and consonants; (b) the voice pitch, which reflects characteristics of the vocal-folds; and (c) the voice quality, which also reflects vocal-fold characteristics, but in complex and multidimensional ways.  One voice quality dimension is whether a person speaks with a breathier voice quality.  Past studies on the acoustic effects of vocal aging have concentrated on formants, which reflect upper-airway cavity sizes, and fundamental frequency, which corresponds to voice pitch.  Few studies have assessed voice quality.

Further, most past work investigated age by comparing people from different generations.  Cross-generational studies can be confounded by changes in human living conditions such as nutrition, employment settings, and exposure to risk factors.  To separate effects of aging from environmental factors, it is preferable to assess the same individuals at different time points.  Such work is rather rare given the demands of re-connecting with people over long periods of time.

Here, we take advantage of the French LangAge corpus (  Participants engaged in bibliographic interviews beginning in 2005, and were revisited in subsequent years.  Our analysis is based on four women recorded in 2005 and 2015.  We focus on women because biological aging may differ across the sexes. Out of all words, we selected two of the most frequent ones that were produced for each speaker and time point and did not include voiceless sounds.

Numbers 049 and 016 identify the two speakers, f=female, and the following value (e.g. 72) is the age of the speaker.

049_f_72_LeGris.wav 016_f_71_chiens.wav
049_f_82_LeBaigneur.wav 016_f_81_chiens.wav

Our results show that all four speakers have a lower cavity (formant) frequency at older ages.  This may reflect lengthening of the upper airways, e.g. the larynx descends somewhat over time.  Voice quality also changed, with breathier vocal quality at younger ages than at older ages.  However, speakers differed considerably in the magnitude of these changes and in which measures demonstrated aging effects.

In some cultures, a breathy vocal quality is a marker of gender. Lifestyle changes in later life could lead to a reduced need to demonstrate “female” qualities. In our dataset, the speaker with the largest changes in breathiness was widowed between recording times.  Along with physiological factors and social-communicative conditions, ongoing adaptation to gender roles as a person ages may also contribute to changes in voice quality.

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