The influence of /s/ quality on ratings of men's sexual orientation: Explicit and implicit measures of the 'gay lisp' stereotype

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Two experiments examined whether listeners associate frontally normal and misarticulated /s/ with gay-sounding voices, as is suggested by the popular culture stereotype that gay men "lisp". The first experiment showed that talkers were rated as younger-sounding and gayer-sounding when their speech included tokens with non-canonical variants of /s/ (i.e., a frontally misarticulated token of /s/, a dentalized /s/, or an /s/ produced with an especially high-frequency, compact spectrum). The second experiment showed that listeners recognize voices more quickly when they contain canonical /s/ variants than when they contain non-canonical /s/. Critically, these patterns were robust across different priming conditions in which listeners were presented with either a gay- or a heterosexual-sounding talker prior to the voice-recognition task. Together, these findings confirm experimentally that listeners make the association between non-canonical /s/ variants and male sexual orientation when asked to do so explicitly. However, though gay-sounding voices elicit longer reaction times in a voice-recognition task, we found no evidence that stereotypes about sexual orientation and /s/ production affect implicit processing of talkers' voices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-212
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The order of authors in this paper is alphabetical, and reflects equal contributions on both authors' parts. This research was supported by a Grant-in-Aid of Research, Scholarship , and Artistry from the University of Minnesota, Graduate School to Benjamin Munson . We express our strong gratitude to Lindsey Kuntz for her help with the perceived /s/ accuracy task. We thank Molly Babel, Adriane Baylis, Nancy DeBoe, Sarah Jefferson, Eden Kaiser, Elizabeth McDonald, Marie Meyer, and Aubrey White for their work on various aspects of this project. This study was inspired, in part, by the comments of an anonymous reviewer of an earlier study ( Munson, Jefferson et al., 2006 ), and an earlier version of this manuscript. We also thank audiences at the 2006 meeting of the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (where there results of tasks 1 and 2 were presented) and the 2008 Linguistic Society of America (where preliminary results for a subset of listeners in Experiment 2 were presented) for useful comments on this work as it was in progress.


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