Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown, Psychology

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Thomas and Reaser (2004) demonstrated that adult speakers can be perceptually differentiated by listeners with respect to gender and ethnicity. They presented data from various studies with respect to adult speakers, but no data for child speakers. It follows that there are cues in the acoustic signal that support making distinctions amongst adult speakers. Following the onset of puberty, these acoustic parameters begin to emerge, enabling listeners to reliably identify speaker characteristics in adulthood (Berger, 2008). The question remains, at what point across the pubertal transition does perceptual accuracy meet the level for adult speakers? The goal of our research is to examine how the gender and ethnicity of the listener affects the accuracy with which they are able to identify these same aspects of a child speaker. Undergraduate students completed a language background questionnaire and then listened to audio recordings of European American and African American children producing /h-vowel-d/ words and sentences. The participants listened to four blocks of recordings: forward words, reverse words, forward sentences, and reverse sentences, containing items spoken by children of each ethnicity, age, and gender. The listeners identified which ethnicity and gender they believed the speaker to be, as well as how confident they were of their choice. We expect that minority (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Asian American) and female participants will have greater accuracy for all speakers. We also anticipate that accuracy of identification will improve as the age of the speaker increases due to the changing of the voice as a result of puberty. The study will provide greater knowledge of how the age of a child speaker impacts the ability of the listener to identify the speaker’s gender and ethnicity. The implications can be informative for individuals who work with children and in speech-related professions.