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What is the difference in pronunciation between women and men when speaking a language, as opposed to the difference in the voice of men and women? The context for the question arises from my looking up the dictionary for some word in French; the verb "champagniser", which is "to turn into Champagne" (as if you could have something like "champagnize" in English). I have translated the relevant part of the entry for your convenience:

Champagniser, transitive verb, Préparer des vins blancs de crus divers selon la méthode champenoise (cf. Ali-Bab, Gastr. pratique, 1907, p. 154). Vins de Touraine champanisés [sic] (A. Daudet, Immortel, 1888, p. 242).− [ʃ ɑ ̃paɳize]. The majority of the dictionaries, especially since Guérin 1892, record champagniser. Besch. 1845 only writes champaniser. This form is mentioned in Larousse. 19e, Nouveau. Larousse. illustré, Littré. Such a form is used alongside champagniser in Quillet 1965. This written form represents a modification in the pronunciation of the articulation of [ɳ]. The nasal [ɳ] is altered from Old French, through Middle French, up to the beginning of the 18th. Hence you could hear in Paris [ano] instead of [aɳo]. (agneau=lamb) Cf. Bourc.-Bourc. 1967, § 198. Moreover, G. Straka in Quelques observations phonétiques sur le langage des femmes (A few observations on phonetics about the language of women) in Orbis, 1952, t. 1, no2, pp. 340-345) makes the following remark concerning the instability of the [ɳ] consonant which is normally occlusive and palatal: ,,It is sometimes palatal, sometimes velar, and when it is palatal, sometimes the tip of the tongue curves behind the inferior incisors (which is normal), some other times it rests against the alveolar and the hard palate; we can further observe, next to the occlusive articulation of the ɳ, a more or less relaxed and constrictive one. We have explained the instability of this consonant with the fact that, as a palatal, it stands now isolated in the French phonetic system.`` G. Straka (ibid.) underscores that the consonant is more often "atteinte" (unclear to me; it's literally reached; or the impediment - as in the speech being impeded phonetically; in any case it's more or less of something) with women compared to men, which he explains with the articulatory energy which is required for pronouncing this consonant, such an energy being less powerful with women than with men. − 1res attest. 1839 (Boiste d'apr. Lar. Lang. fr.), av. 1845 champaniser (Dict. du comm. ds Besch. Suppl.), 1866 champagniser (Lar. 19e); de champagne2, suffixe. -iser*.

[ Trésor de la langue française informatisé (TLFi) - from « champagniser » ]

So I gather not all vowels and consonants require the same articulatory energy, and the one described therein requires a particular level, and in that instance there is maybe more of a marked difference between men and women. In the Wikipedia article on human voice, I read women and men have a different size of vocal chords, and this is mostly about pitch, consistent with what I've observed since childhood, and not my concern here. I found a document called Phonétique acoustique (Christine Meunier, 2007, on p. 9) where the author says that beyond the ability we have to identify the sex of the speaker based on pitch, it is much harder to come to terms with the reality of the difference in the pronunciation of vowels between women and men; there is reference to the size of the resonators (bigger for men) and higher formant values for women (Tubach, 1989); an example is given for the /e/ formant which averages at 365 Hz, 1961 Hz, 2644 Hz (men); and 417 Hz, 2351 Hz et 3128 Hz (women). I don't understand how such values can mean anything besides pitch. Elsewhere I've asked a language specific question about "champagniser", as the ɳ retroflex it supposedly contains is said to not exist in the French language.1


  1. What is the main difference, excluding pitch, between men and woman when speaking (pronunciation), and is it one single factor/biological difference or many that make up this difference?
  2. Does the difference apply to every sound equally; or more to vowels or consonants, or a subset of either; why?
  3. Generally, does this apply to every language or are there certain languages where this difference will be more/less obvious, and if so, why?

1. I think this is related to a debate about whether [ɲ] and [ŋ] stand on their own in French or are simply allophone constructs for /nj/; but this is all beyond my nonexistent expertise with any of those topics and not the focus of this question here.

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    That explanation sounds like nonsense to me--does it also date to the 19th century? Women's speech often differs from mens', but a large part of this is sociolinguistic rather than solely due to biological differences. It seems to me that phonetic innovations often do spread first among women, before later spreading to societies as a whole. – ewawe Jun 10 '15 at 23:49
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    It's definitely an interesting question, and I'm no expert either, so I don't have the knowledge to actually refute the Straka quote. But it's the first time I've heard of a) /ɲ/ requiring more articulatory energy than /n/ and b) women having less capability to produce "articulatory energy" than men to such an extent as to be phonologically significant. I'd note that I only dispute Straka's explanation of the difference; the actual pronunciations may well have been distributed based on sex at some period. (By the way, I believe /ɳ/ in the quoted material is a typo for /ɲ/, the palatal nasal.) – ewawe Jun 11 '15 at 0:03
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    There has been research by Caroline Henton showing a regular differentiation in the realisation of vowels between male and female speakers of English. She found that female speakers vary more in the height (F1) such that they are more 'open-mouthed' in their vowel articulations. I've seen similar effects in some Papuan languages. This makes sense for vowels, but I can't see why there would be such a difference for /ɲ/. – Gaston Ümlaut Jun 11 '15 at 3:05
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    The term 'pitch' in linguistics usually refers to the (perceived) fundamental frequency. The frequencies of the harmonics which constitute the formants (and the pattern of intensity of those harmonics) determines the vowel sound... I think this is the 'pitch' you are asking about? But note that this only applies to vowels, not to consonants. – Gaston Ümlaut Jun 11 '15 at 3:17
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    Interesting question but extremely broad. Probably hints towards partial answers to be found in Volume one of La fonction expressive). Pages 33-34 reference to Pierre Leon. Link to google books – Laure Jun 3 '16 at 19:01

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