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Voice Quality in English: an Introduction

Sophie Herment and Pierre Fournier

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  • 1 ALOES: Association des anglicistes pour les études de langue orale dans l’enseignement supérieur, (...)
  • 2 PLEIADE is a multidisciplinary research centre of the University of Paris 13 - Sorbonne Paris Cit (...)

1This 2019 thematic issue of Anglophonia is dedicated to Voice Quality in English. It follows the 19th Villetaneuse Conference on Spoken English, organized by ALOES1 and PLEIADE2 at the University of Paris 13 in April 2018, whose topic was Voice quality in English: from the production of a phonation type to the perception of a social variable.

2Voice quality is a hot topic, it has been the subject of numerous worldwide scientific publications in recent years, even though the initial interest for voice studies can be dated back to a few decades ago, in particular with Laver’s seminal works (1968, 1980). The 2018 Villetaneuse Conference gathered specialists in voice studies like Richard Wright (University of Washington), who was the invited speaker and honoured us with a contribution in this issue, and Patricia Keating and Jody Kreiman (UCLA), who count amongst the most eminent specialists in voice studies worldwide (see amongst other publications Kreiman & Sitdis 2013; Keating et al. 2015), along with French and international scholars and PhD students working in different domains linked to voice quality. The great interest in the theme of this conference, the high scientific level of the talks and the fruitful discussions led us to propose a special issue of Anglophonia dedicated to that matter. We thank the editorial committee for giving us the opportunity to publish a number of articles related to that field. In this special issue, we are concerned with voice quality in English, in relation to both the perspectives of production and perception. This special issue is composed of ten articles. The first four are directly linked to voice quality analysis, while the last six are more removed from this subject and constitute a varia section, all of which deal with oral English.

3The first article of this volume, “Voice Quality in British English, its Nature, Functions and Applications”, is a perfect introduction to voice quality. Stephan Wilhelm pedagogically explains what voice quality is, with details on the articulatory and phonatory settings and a description of the various phonation types, before giving an overview of the functions of voice quality (linguistic, paralinguistic and extralinguistic). It finally discusses the domains of application of voice quality studies, highlighting the great field of research that it constitutes.

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4Recently, the UCLA team developed a software for the analysis of voice quality production, VoiceSauce3 (Shue et al. 2011), which is widely used now for voice quality analyses. Along with Laver (1980) or Scherer et al. (1984), Ailbhe Ní Chasaide and her team at Trinity College, Dublin, also worked a great deal on voice quality and emotion (Gobl & Ní Chasaide 2003a, 2003b; Ní Chasaide & Gobl 2005; Yanushevskaya et al. 2009). They are on the side of perception, showing that different types of phonation can be cues of affect. The stylistic aspects of voice quality are also most interesting issues: if voice quality is not an integrated part of the sound production in English, it can be adopted for stylistic purposes. The most striking example lately is probably the widespread use of creaky voice among young people, and more particularly young women (Hornibrook et al. 2018). Voice quality can indeed be a cue to geographical and social origins (see for example Stuart-Smith (1999) for Glaswegian English).

5The social significance of voice quality features in English is worth being questioned. What do we mean when we use a particular type of phonation? What are the social implications, the identity issues?

6These questions are raised in the second article of the volume, “Voice Quality Types and Uses in North American English”, which also makes the link between production and perception. Richard Wright, Courtney Mansfield and Laura Panfili first define what is relevant in their study to the field of voice quality because this term has been defined differently according to the various theoretical backgrounds. Then, they focus on creaky voice and its distribution in North American English and show that creaky voice has discourse, pragmatic, and social functions. Although usually studied in the speech of women, creaky voice is shown here to be a tool used by men to index gender. This argument proves that voice quality is closely related to the field of sociolinguistics.

7The third article, “The Evolution of Creaky Voice Use in Read Speech by Native-French and Native-English Speakers in Tandem: a Pilot Study”, also deals with creaky voice, in a different and very original perspective, that of tandem interactions between a native French speaker and a native English speaker. The research question is: does voice quality found in each of the two languages spoken evolve in the course of the interaction? Claire Pillot-Loiseau, Céline Horgues, Sylwia Scheuer and Takeki Kamiyama’s study is based on a minute analysis of the creaky occurrences of the read part of the SITAF corpus (Horgues & Scheuer 2015). The authors give enlightening insights in how speech interaction affects voice quality, in a very innovative study.

  • 4 EFL: English as a Foreign Language.

8Voice quality can also be studied in the light of EFL4 teaching (Jones & Evans 1995), as shown in the next article. Geoffrey Schwartz (“Voice quality and L2 Proficiency in the English Tense-Lax Contrast”) is interested in English as a second language (as a foreign language in his particular case). His article explores the role of phonation in the English tense-lax contrast. Very few studies address this issue, and even fewer in the light of EFL. The author shows that Polish speakers with a high level of English proficiency incorporate voice quality differences while less proficient learners do not. This type of research suggests something of a phonological function for voice quality and allows to better understand linguistic and extra-linguistic use of voice quality.

9To follow up on the acquisition of contrasts in EFL, Adrien Méli and Nicolas Ballier (“Analyse de la production de voyelles anglaises par des apprenants francophones, l’acquisition du contraste /ɪ/–/iː/ à la lumière des k-NN”) explore the relevance of using supervised learning methods to estimate the degree of acquisition of phonemic contrast in a second language from standardized formantic values. In this very technical article, the acquisition of the English /ɪ/ ~ /i:/ contrast by French learners is evaluated using the k-NN (k-nearest neighbours) algorithm. The authors show that despite a few flaws, the k-NN method reveals robust to assess the contrast and gives interesting perspectives as to learners’ automatic diagnosis of realisations and remediation.

10We are still in the field of EFL with Paolo Mairano, Enrico Zovato and Vito Quinci. Their article, “On the Relation Between Lexical and Prosodic Cues of Emotion in English: a Preliminary Corpus-Based Analysis”, shows that emotion can be detected through distinctive linguistic factors. Voice quality is not at the core of the study but is used as a tool to identify and quantify emotion in English along with pitch and rhythm. Audiobook texts constitute the corpus on which the relationship between lexical and acoustic cues of emotions are determined at word and sentence levels. This preliminary study shows, through an entirely automatic analysis, that the relation between lexical and prosodic cues of emotions is not strong but this might be due to the type of speech: the speaker’s emotional involvement might not be the same in reading as in conversational speech. Further investigation is needed but this article provides an interesting discussion on the redundancy of emotional cues, which would be avoided when conceptualising emotions, while a tighter relation between lexical and prosodic cues could be reserved for expressing emotions.

11Florent Chevalier takes us to Scotland, with an article on vowel length variation in Scottish English (“On Sound Change and Gender: the Case of Vowel Length Variation in Scottish English”). He shows that the Scottish Vowel Length Rule (SVLR, also known as Aitken’s law) is evolving, but is not moving towards the Anglo-English pattern, as might have been expected. The study reduplicates on female speakers a previous study by Rathcke and Stuart-Smith (2015), which focused solely on men, and gives interesting insights as far as gender is concerned. Women seem to show a more radical change than their male counterparts. Prosodic factors also seem to play a role in the evolution of vowel length.

12Pierre Habasque is also interested in gender and in a very original way in linguistic misogyny (the article is entitled “You’ll never have to listen to her talk like this? With an upward inflection? At the end of every sentence?”— Fundamental frequency of female voices & linguistic misogyny in Fox’s Family Guy). His study is based on a fiction television series. The author explores how fundamental frequency variations, in particular a rising terminal intonation, may be used to stigmatize female characters. He shows that along with prosody, other features like vocabulary, semantics and dialogue construction can also be used for that purpose.

13Anastasija Rastovic, Maud Pélissier and Emmanuel Ferragne’s article is entitled “The Perception of Swear Words by French Learners of English: an Experiment Involving Electrodermal Activity”. This original research investigates emotional responses caused by the hearing of swear words or taboo words and shows that differences are noticeable according to the language used. Emotional responses are stronger when the listeners hear taboo words in their first language rather than their second language. Electrodermal activity was measured on French learners of English and it actually correlates the fact that listeners are generally more emotionally attached to L1 than to L2.

14The last contribution of this volume, “The Core of the English Lexicon: Stress and Graphophonology”, written by Véronique Abasq, Quentin Dabouis, Jean-Michel Fournier and Isabelle Girard, deals with the stress and graphophonological regularities of the English system. The study uses Fournier’s framework, which is based on Lionel Guierre’s research. The corpus is composed of the 5000 most frequent words of the English vocabulary. English has long been considered (and still sometimes is) by scholars a language with many exceptions, as far as the relation between written forms and phonetic realizations is concerned. This article shows that Fournier’s model is actually very efficient and that exceptions can be accounted for because they generally belong to easily identifiable sub-classes, which opens many pedagogical perspectives for learners of English.

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Gobl, Christer and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide. “The role of voice quality in communicating emotion, mood and attitude”. Speech Communication 40 (1-2) (2003): 189-212.

Gobl, Christer and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide. “Amplitude-based source parameters for measuring voice quality”. Proceedings of the ISCA Tutorial and Research Workshop VOQUAL'03 on Voice Quality: Functions, Analysis and Synthesis, VOQUAL’03, Geneva, (2003): 151-156.

Horgues, Céline and Sylwia Scheuer. Why Some Things Are Better Done in Tandem. Investigating English pronunciation: Current trends and directions. Eds. Jose A. Mompeán & Jonas Fouz-González. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 47-82.

Hornibrook, Jeremy, Tika Ormond and Margaret Maclagan. “Creaky voice or extreme vocal fry in young women”. New Zealand Medical Journal Nov 30/131 (2018): 36-40.

Jones, Rodney H. and Stephen Evans. “Teaching Pronunciation through Voice Quality”. ELT Journal 49 (1995): 244-251.

Keating, Patricia, Mark Garellek and Jody Kreiman. “Acoustic properties of different kinds of creaky voice”, Proceedings of ICPhS (2015).

Kreiman, Jody and Diana Sitdis. Foundations of Voice Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Voice Production and Perception. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Laver, John. “Voice Quality and Indexical Information”. British Journal of Disorders of Communication 3 (1968): 43-54.

Laver, John. The Phonetic Description of Voice Quality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe and Christer Gobl. “On the relationship between phonatory quality and affect”. A Figure of Speech: a Festschrift for John Laver. Eds. Hardcastle, William and Janet Mackenzie Beck. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005, 323-346.

Rathcke, Tamara and Jane Stuart-Smith. “On the Tail of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule in Glasgow.” Language and Speech 58 (2015): 1-27.

Scherer, Klaus, Ladd, Robert and Kim Silverman. “Vocal Cues to Speaker Affect: Testing Two Models”. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 76 (1984): 1346-1356.

Stuart-Smith, Jane. “Glasgow: accent and voice quality”. Urban Voices (Accent Studies in the British Isles). Eds. Foulkes Paul and Gerard Docherty. London: Arnold, 1999, 203-222.

Shue, Yen, Keating, Patrica, Vicenik, Chad and Kristine Yu. “VoiceSauce: A program for voice analysis”, Proceedings of the ICPhS XVII (2011): 1846-1849.

Yanushevskaya, Irena, Gobl, Christer and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide. “Perceived loudness and voice quality in affect cueing”. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Spoken Language Processing, Interspeech (2009): 1979-1982.

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1 ALOES: Association des anglicistes pour les études de langue orale dans l’enseignement supérieur, secondaire et primaire,

2 PLEIADE is a multidisciplinary research centre of the University of Paris 13 - Sorbonne Paris Cité.


4 EFL: English as a Foreign Language.

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Electronic reference

Sophie Herment and Pierre Fournier, “Voice Quality in English: an Introduction”Anglophonia [Online], 27 | 2019, Online since 25 November 2019, connection on 12 August 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Sophie Herment

Aix-Marseille University

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Pierre Fournier

University of Paris 13

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