Who Is It?: Vowel Sound Variation Among African American and European American Children

Student Author(s)

Dalila Salas
Emily Simmons

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown

Document Type


Event Date



Previous research conducted by Peterson and Barney (1952) has shown vowels are acoustically specified based on their formant frequencies. Their study has been replicated and extended to include temporal and spectral measurements (Hillenbrand et al., 1995). While both of these studies included children, neither included data in respect to the child’s gender or ethnicity. Therefore, more data is needed that provides the acoustic targets for children that take age, gender, and ethnicity into consideration. The present study explores variations in phonemic production across age, gender, and ethnicity. There is a gradual lowering of the voice beginning with the onset of puberty, which could begin as early as age 10 (Berger, 2008). The fundamental frequency of a child’s voice lowers as well, influencing the phonological space, which could result in differences across gender especially for the 11 to 12 year olds. Children were presented with a list containing neutral consonantal context /h-vowel-d/ words and a second list containing sentence-length stimuli. The /hVd/ words contained each of the 12 General American English vowels as well as three diphthongs for a total of 30 utterances per speaker. We hypothesize that fundamental and formant frequencies will be higher for 8- to 9-year olds than for 10- to 12-year olds and higher for girls (by age 10). With respect to ethnicity, we anticipate no significant differences in frequency measures between European-American and African-American children. This study will contribute to our knowledge of developmental trajectories for specified acoustic parameters. As gender and ethnicity are vital cues for adult speakers, it is important to investigate how salient acoustic parameters are for child speakers and at what ages child parameters begin to approximate adult measures. Results will have implications for audiologists, speech language pathologists, developmental scientists, and others in the field of communication sciences and disorders.

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