Do racial physical differences affect how voices sound, or is it all culture?

Do the somewhat different physical conformations between of skull, chest voice box affect how voices sound or is it all culture.

I’ve noticed that persons of Hispanic descent raised in white/euro families tend to sound exactly like their white/euro peers and so do children of Arabic descent. Is this true of African American and Indian or Asian kids raised in white euro families as well, or (culture aside) is there a notable difference in voice timbre between races due to physical differences?

Just an anecdote, but about a year ago I saw on television a white woman who’d been living in Haiti for several decades, and her accent certainly sounded Haitian to me. It was surprising to see a white woman with a “black” accent.

Before someone can even begin to answer this question, you need to define what you mean by “race.” Are you just talking about African Americans (for example), who are mostly descended from West African populations, with a significant admixture of European ancestry; or are you speaking of all sub-Saharan Africans (who include people ranging in size and conformation from pygmies to Masai)?

However, no matter how you define it, the range of variation in physical characteristics affecting the voice within a sub-population is going to be pretty close to that within the population at large; so that the answer to your question is almost certainly no.

OK… give me example of an Asian American man who has a deep resonant voice?

George Takei

Don’t know the answer, but even if a black person speaks as clearly as possible on the phone, I can always tell they’re black, it’s just the tone of their voice or something.

Anecdotal evidence, possibly not fit for GQ but…

Here in Australia we have a fair number of Chinese people descended from those who came here for the various gold rushes in the mid nineteenth century. You can pick them from more recent arrivals when they speak by their broad Australian accents. They sound more Aussie than me (and as dad came out from Wales in the 60’s, they probably are more Aussie).

So no, I don’t think that physiology makes much difference, not as much as immersion in a language and culture.

Dialect is cultural, not physical.

While the shape of our vocal tract (from the voicebox to the lips) has some affect on the way we speak (mainly in pitch of your voice which has to do with the size of your voicebox, and there is more variability within cultural groups than across), the vast majority of what makes a person sound “black” or “white” or “insertlabelhere” is cultural. You learn to speak like your peers, so a Latino child raised in a white family with all white peers is going to sound white, and a white kid raised in a Latino family with all Latino peers is going to sound Latino (with the odd exception, of course).

Oh, please, give us a break. This is GQ. If you want to discuss this on an anecdotal level you should have posted it in IMHO.

And what does Asian American, rather than simply Asian, have to do with it?

Prove it.

I’d need a cite that any such physical difference actually exists between the ‘races’. At least, any difference that is significant compared to the normal differences between people within the same ‘race’.

Bigger people will tend to have a deeper voice and smaller people will tend to have higher voices, but different cultures have different norms for pitch of the voice for men and women. The pitch range for men and women overlap significantly, so most men and women could speak with the same pitch. However, in white American culture, men tend to use the lower end of their pitch range and women the higher. In some Arabic* cultures, however, men tend to use the mid or higher range of their voices because that’s what is considered masculine in that culture.

So the “fact” that there aren’t a lot of Asian people with deep, resonant voices could be a combination of a cultural norm and size of the vocal chords. I don’t honestly know, but physiology has very little to do with the characteristic way different ethnicities speak, and the amount of variation within an ethnic group is equal to or greater than the variation between ethnic groups when it comes to physical features. In other words, **Colibri **is right on.
*If I’m remembering correctly. It might not be Arabic, but there definitely do exist cultures with different norms regarding pitch and gender.

However, irrelevant to the thread.

I also like the assumption that black people usually speak not clearly.

There are varieties and styles of African American English that are a lot less “vernacular” that the stereotype portrayed in the media, but not ever African American speaks AAE … and some white (or Latino or Asian or so on) who do. So, when **digglebop **swears he knows that the person on the other end of the line is black, he is picking up on some features of AAE. Who knows how many African Americans he’s spoken to without realizing it.

This kind of linguistic profiling is a big problem when it comes to housing. When someone who sounds black calls up a number in a listing for an apartment, that person will often be told that the apartment has already been rented. If a white-sounding person calls up right after, that person will often be told that the apartment is still available. The landlord’s defense will often be the opposite of digglebop’s – that he or she can’t hear race over the phone. I worked on a project to decifer the phonetic correlates of AAE for use in courts to prove that you can, in fact, often tell if a person is African American over the phone.

In a semi-famous experiment, the linguist John Baugh called up listings using AAE, and then calling back using his standard dialect. Here’s a YouTube video recreating that exeriment:


How so?

The OP is asking about how people talk. I understood it to mean not *only *timbre of voice but other aspects that do, indeed, fall under a dialect. Further, as I explained in later posts, timbre of voice is cultural and is a part of a dialect.

I don’t read the OP that way. That’s like dismissing the difference in men and women’s voices as “dialect.”

It’s sort of a hard thing to tell though. For instance, 20-something men in Japan talk with sort of a airy, soft voice, while as guys in their thirties and forties will just as often as not talk like…well like dudes in samurai movies threatening to chop your head off if you insult their master. That could be an effect of social forcings or it could be that twenty years of smoking will do that to you.

Outside of measuring the size of the larynx (etc.), there’s likely no way to tell from simple auditory tests.

Aside from one of my friends in college being 100% chinese genetically but raised in south philly and sounding it…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Tony Gwynn.

Black? Yes.

Raised in San Diego close to the beaches? Certainly from his speech.

I, myself, have largely the same rhythm and word choice patterns.

Which I covered in a subsequent post. And the OP was interested in why people of one ethnicity raised by people of another sound like the latter. All of my posts have not been about dialect.

It’s hard to imagine an identifiable “black” timbre that encompasses both James Earl Jones and Chris Tucker.

I think what makes a voice sound “black” to me may be more of a cadence than a timbre, which I guess would make it cultural. I really doubt if there’s a phisiological basis.