Does Posh English Sound Attractive?

Li Jiao, Chengxia Wang, Cristiane Hsu, Peter Birkholz, Yi Xu


Poshness refers to how much a British English speaker sounds upper class when they talk. Popular descriptions of posh English mostly focus on vocabulary, accent and phonology. This study tests the hypothesis that, as a social index, poshness is also manifested via phonetic properties known to encode vocal attractiveness. Specifically, posh English, because of its impression of being detached, authoritative and condescending, would more closely resemble an attractive male voice than an attractive female voice. In four experiments, we tested this hypothesis by acoustically manipulating Cambridge-accented English utterances by a male and a female speaker through PSOLA resynthesis, and having native speakers of British English judge how posh or attractive each utterance sounds. The manipulated acoustic dimensions are formant dispersion, pitch shift and speech rate. Initial results from the first two experiments showed a trend in the hypothesized direction for the male speakers’ utterances. But for the female utterances there was a ceiling effect due to the frequent alternation of speaker gender within the same test session. When the two speakers’ utterances were separated by blocks in the third and fourth experiments, a clearer support for the main hypothesis was found.


 DOI: 10.21437/Interspeech.2017-1691

Cite as: Jiao, L., Wang, C., Hsu, C., Birkholz, P., Xu, Y. (2017) Does Posh English Sound Attractive?. Proc. Interspeech 2017, 2257-2261, DOI: 10.21437/Interspeech.2017-1691.


@inproceedings{Jiao2017,
  author={Li Jiao and Chengxia Wang and Cristiane Hsu and Peter Birkholz and Yi Xu},
  title={Does Posh English Sound Attractive?},
  year=2017,
  booktitle={Proc. Interspeech 2017},
  pages={2257--2261},
  doi={10.21437/Interspeech.2017-1691},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/Interspeech.2017-1691}
}