General Question

girlofscience's avatar

Why do people of short stature have different-than-average voices?

Asked by girlofscience (7550points) July 6th, 2008

I’ve been watching a few documentaries about different types of dwarfism on Discovery Health. The people who are extremely small tend to have different voices—ones that are very high-pitched and often difficult to understand. The documentaries have addressed every other issue regarding dwarfism but have failed to mention why voices in people of short stature are affected.

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3 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

Are the ones who are extremely small also all affected by the same kind of pathology? And is there a linear relationship between height and vocal changes, or is it more dichotomous?

girlofscience's avatar

@nikipedia: There are so many different types of dwarfism, and they all have different characteristics. Most who are extremely small are primordial dwarfs, and they are characterized by actually having all of their body parts completely proportional. However, there are also other types of dwarfs who happen to be extremely small, and they also have the different voices.

The vocal changes appear to be dichotomous. People who are super small (say, under 3’6’’) have them, and people above that height do not.

Harp's avatar

Here is research on the relationship between stature and fundamental voice frequency, taking into account various forms of retarded growth and dwarfism.

And here is a piece on how we use voice clues to make predictions about the speaker’s physical attributes. Here are a few applicable excerpts:

“Physique and height are probably judged accurately because of the good correlation that seems to exist between these factors and the dimensions of the speaker’s vocal apparatus. A tall, well-built man will tend to have a long vocal tract and large vocal folds. His voice quality will reflect the length of his vocal tract by having correspondingly low ranges of formant frequencies, and his voice dynamic features will indicate the dimensions and mass of his vocal folds by a correspondingly low range of fundamental frequency. His large respiratory volume will be reflected in a powerful loudness range.

“There is one class of voices where the general correlation does not apply, but where listeners nevertheless seem to be able to reach successful conclusions about the physical attributes. That is where the formant ranges of the voice are radically discrepant with the fundamental frequency, as in particular types of dwarfism (Vuorenkoski, Tjernlund & Perheentupa 1972; Weinberg & Zlatin 1970). In these cases, the dimensions of the vocal folds are smaller than their general correlation with vocal tract length would lead one to expect.”

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