Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

Kira Hall

Second Advisor

J. Andrew Cowell

Third Advisor

Barbara Fox

Fourth Advisor

Donna Goldstein

Fifth Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Abstract

This dissertation is based on a long-term ethnographic and sociophonetic study of 15 transgender people on the female-to-male (or transmasculine) identity spectrum. The focus of the study is the way these individuals’ voices change during the first 1-2 years of masculinizing hormone therapy, which brings about a drop in vocal pitch along with other salient physiological changes. Based on regular recordings of participants during a one year period, the analysis tracks changes in fundamental frequency as well as formant frequencies and the acoustic characteristics of [s], each of which has a different place in biology-driven theories of gender and the voice. In addition to ostensibly hormonally driven changes to speakers’ available fundamental frequency range, I present evidence that these speakers are engaged in various types of articulatory shifts as part of their gender role transition, which affect both formants and [s]. However, I argue that changes in all three of the phonetic domains examined here must be situated in both sociocultural and linguistic context, even where biology appears to play a significant role. The analyses presented, which include attention to both intra- and inter-speaker variation, draw on a multilayered understanding of gender derived from transgender people’s own distinctions between gender assignment, gender role, gender identity, and gender presentation. My speakers’ metalinguistic commentary on gender and the voice further elucidates the constellations of phonetic features that combine to create their cohesive gendered speaking styles. Ultimately, I focus on the ways that changes in one phonetic variable, like pitch, can recontextualize other elements of a speaker’s linguistic style, like the acoustic spectrum of [s]. This connection drives home the necessity of considering the relationship between linguistic characteristics, rather than treating them as entirely separable variables. Attention to stylistic wholes, over individual variables, points us toward the notion that transmasculine individuals do not engage in across the- board masculinization, but rather bring together acoustic characteristics acquired from disparate sources in order to construct phonetic styles that reflect their complex affiliations with manhood, maleness, and masculinity.

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