Changes in the Human Vocal Tract Due to Aging and the Acoustic Correlates of Speech Production: A Pilot Study

Xue, Steve An; Hao, Grace Jianping
June 2003
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Jun2003, Vol. 46 Issue 3, p689
Academic Journal
This investigation used a derivation of acoustic reflection (AR) technology to make cross-sectional measurements of changes due to aging in the oral and pharyngeal lumina of male and female speakers. The purpose of the study was to establish preliminary normative data for such changes and to obtain acoustic measurements of changes due to aging in the formant frequencies of selected spoken vowels and their long-term average spectra (LTAS) analysis. Thirty-eight young men and women and 38 elderly men and women were involved in the study. The oral and pharyngeal lumina of the participants were measured with AR technology, and their formant frequencies were analyzed using the Kay Elemetrics Computerized Speech Lab. The findings have delineated specific and similar patterns of aging changes in human vocal tract configurations in speakers of both genders. Namely, the oral cavity length and volume of elderly speakers increased significantly compared to their young cohorts. The total vocal tract volume of elderly speakers also showed a significant increment, whereas the total vocal tract length of elderly speakers did not differ significantly from their young cohorts. Elderly speakers of both genders also showed similar patterns of acoustic changes of speech production, that is, consistent lowering of formant frequencies (especially F1) across selected vowel productions. Although new research models are still needed to succinctly account for the speech acoustic changes of the elderly, especially for their specific patterns of human vocal tract dimensional changes, this study has innovatively applied the noninvasive and cost-effective AR technology to monitor age-related human oral and pharyngeal lumina changes that have direct consequences for speech production.


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