The acoustics of the sound /s/ have been shown to vary as a function of speaker gender in previous research, but the origin of this gender dichotomy remains controversial. The present study aimed to investigate the age at which gender-specific /s/ production begins to appear, and whether this dichotomy was related to gender role formation. Thirty normally developing children aged 4 and 5 participated in a series of experiments which examined their speech production, physical development and gender role behaviour. Word-initial /s/ and /S/ were elicited and recorded for acoustic analysis. The mean spectral frequency of the fricative noise was calculated over the middle 40-ms window. Gender role behaviour was measured through both parental report and a free-play activity in the lab for the children. Our results revealed that even very young children have clearly distinguished gender role behaviour, as well as gender differentiated /s/ productions. No such differentiation was found for the production of /S/. Importantly, correlation between the acoustic variation in /s/ and gender role behaviour began to emerge in these subjects, as evidenced by productions of the word "suitcase". This relationship was discussed in regards to articulatory strategies, gender stereotypes and adult role models.
Bibliographic reference. Kinsman, Melissa / Li, Fangfang (2013): "The relationship between gender-differentiated productions of /s/ and gender role behaviour in young children", In INTERSPEECH-2013, 1283-1286.