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The Prehistory of Language$
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Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199545872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545872.001.0001

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Why women speak better than men (and its significance for evolution)

Why women speak better than men (and its significance for evolution)

Chapter:
(p.255) 14 Why women speak better than men (and its significance for evolution)
Source:
The Prehistory of Language
Author(s):

Bart de Boer

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545872.003.0014

This chapter investigates the effect of the lowering of the larynx in humans, providing an articulatory/acoustic perspective on the evolution of speech. It uses Mermelstein's model of the geometry of the human male vocal tract, a model in which the contours correspond to the actions of the muscles involved in speech. In the experiment, the area of the acoustic space that is accessible by a model of the male vocal tract — a space similar to the maximum vowel space — is compared with the accessible area of the female vocal tract. Simulation results show the female vocal tract is better than the male tract for producing distinctive speech sounds. This indicates that there is an evolutionary advantage to a vocal tract that has a pharyngeal and an oral cavity of equal length, as in the case of the female tract. It is argued that a different evolutionary explanation for the lower position of the male larynx needs to be found, the theory of size exaggeration as proposed by Tecumseh Fitch and his colleagues being a likely candidate.

Keywords:   larynx, language development, language capacity, evolution, women, men, speech sounds, vocal tract

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