Cross-Language Study of Age Perception

Kyoko Nagao


A number of studies have shown that listeners can estimate the age of talkers quite accurately by listening to speech alone. However, the effects of native language on age perception have not yet been explored. The current study examined the effects of listener’s language familiarity on the perception of a talker’s age in the three linguistic contexts varying the amount of information, i.e., vowel, phrase, and sentence. Two groups of listeners (English and Japanese) estimated the age of talkers whose native language were matched or mismatched with the listener’s. Furthermore, in order to investigate the effect of age stereotypes in each language, the same listeners estimated the age of talkers who disguised themselves as 20 year older or younger than their age.

Results indicated that listener’s estimation of talker’s age improved when more information was available. The listeners estimated the age of talkers more accurately in the familiar language than the foreign language. Better age estimation was found for female talkers than male talkers, but the effect of talker’s sex only appeared in the age estimation in the familiar language. Results of age estimation for age-disguised speech revealed that both language groups in this investigation have similar age stereotypes. These results suggested that the age-related speech characteristics are based on both on physiological factors and linguistic variation, variation that a non-native listener does not have access to. Results also suggest that there exists an underlying perceptual mechanism for identifying the age that is common across languages.

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Last updated on September, 2006

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