I always assumed a dichotomy between f0 and pitch, such that the former is objective/physical whilst the latter is subjective/mental.

Then, I was introduced to this presentation and article.

According to the claims made on the 2nd slide of the presentation, my assumption about pitch and f0 isn't exactly true.

I can imagine that one could claim that a particular calculation of f0 (like that done in Praat, for ex) isn't objective (because it results in octave jump), but the existence of f0 itself is difficult for me to challenge. Can someone explain to me in what respect f0 isn't objective?

  • 2
    I am not an expert in the human voice, but here is a factoid from music: it is well known that the lowest tones of a violin cannot be emitted effectively by the instrument. Analysing the frequency spectrum, one sees, that the base frequency is essentially absent (or at least suppressed in comparison with the harmonics). It is the humans brain that reconstructs the base frequency from the harmonics. We hear something that is physically not there. Commented May 10, 2017 at 9:29
  • I suggest re-reading the Liberman materials. He does not even address your point about objective vs. subjective.
    – user6726
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 15:53
  • In the presentation slide 2, he writes "F0: An objective (?) physical quantity" -- what's the question mark doing there?
    – Teusz
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


The presentation is not challenging "the existence of f0 itself". It is saying that tone is not just pitch (true) and that pitch is not just f0 (true).

Tone, in the sense that is being used there, is a linguistic concept that is used as a distinguishing feature in some languages.

Pitch is the perception of whether a sound (which could be non-linguistic) is "high" or "low", and this perception (like most of our other perceptions) results from a combination of things (one of which is the frequency of the sound).

The problems the presentation raises are not with f0 per-se, but with the methods that are used to estimate (keyword being estimate) what that value is. Of course, that something is hard to measure correctly does not mean it is not "objective". That, I'd say, is a confusion of terms.

Or put in another way: if f0 did not exist, which is what it sounds like you were left with, then how could the speaker know that in page 14 it was doubled? Doubled with respect to ... what?

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    Specifically, pitch is defined by ANSI as "That attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which sounds may be ordered on a scale extending from high to low". web.mit.edu/hst.723/www/ThemePapers/Pitch/Houtsma95.pdf. The subjectivity of pitch is that it is defined in terms of the sensations of a subject (hence is subjective). "Subjective" does not mean "arbitrary" or "unreal".
    – user6726
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 15:33
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    @user6726 pitch is subjective because it's perceptual; the question was about the objectivity of f0
    – jja
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 15:39
  • Point is, his first sentence is correct. The Liberman articles don't even address the question of subjectivity vs. objectivity.
    – user6726
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 15:46
  • In the presentation slide 2, he writes "F0: An objective (?) physical quantity" -- what's the question mark doing there?
    – Teusz
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:03
  • You could ask him: but he doesn't actually say anything to indicate that your interpretation is wrong.
    – user6726
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:22

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