Voice Characteristics in Speaking a Foreign Language

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Linna building, auditorium K 103, address: Kalevantie 5.


Doctoral defence of M.A. Kati Järvinen

Voice Characteristics in Speaking a Foreign Language - A study of voice in Finnish and Englis as L1 and L2

The field of science of the dissertation is Speech Technique and Vocology.

The opponents are professor Hannele Dufva (University of Jyväskylä) and docent Okko Räsänen (Aalto university). Professor Anne-Maria Laukkanen acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Speaking a Foreign language and its effect on Voice

Speaking a foreign language has become a part of our everyday lives. It is essential that in an international, multicultural, and global society people from different language and cultural backgrounds can communicate together. Also, a change towards a more international work life sets demands for foreign language skills. There are, also, professions that include daily a vast amount of speaking in a foreign language, such as interpreters and foreign language teachers. Previous studies have shown that interpreters and teachers suffer from voice problems. There are number of reasons for these problems, such as working conditions, a great amount of speech during the work day, and work-related mental load, but it is possible that speaking the foreign language included in the mentioned professions may cause changes in voice production and, therefore, cause voice problems.

Twenty native Finnish and 23 native English speakers participated in the study. Text reading and spontaneous speech samples were recorded in native and foreign language (English and Finnish), and additionally, a questionnaire was used to gather the subjects´ subjective notions of changes in voice caused by the shift from speaking the native language to speaking the foreign language. The samples were acoustically and perceptually analyzed.

According to the results, speaking a foreign language causes changes in voice, especially in pitch. Acoustical and perceptual analyses supported the subjective notions. Long time average spectrum and inverse filtering as methods for describing voice quality, as well perceptual analyses showed that voice was in many cases more pressed in the foreign language than in the native one. Pressedness adds loading of the vocal folds. Also, dose measurements of vocal loading a trend towards more loading in the foreign language was found.

Research between two languages is challenging, because differences between languages cause changes in the acoustic signal. Inverse filtering is a suitable method for studying differences in voice production in languages, since it excludes the articulatory characteristics from the signal. Also, dose measurements seem to be usable, especially when the amount of voicing is taken into account and doses are normalized to that.

Speaking a foreign language and the changes it causes can have far-reaching consequences, as more pressed voice production can result in subjective symptoms of vocal fatigue and overloading of the vocal folds. Overloading of the vocal folds may cause voice problems and actual voice disorders. It would be worth to pay attention to foreign language students´ voice production and to practice optimal voice use also in the foreign language, since the optimal voice use in the native language does not guarantee optimal voice use in the foreign one.

The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2274, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1776, Tampere University Press 2017.

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