Vowel Sounds

March 28, 2011

The term formant refers to peaks in the harmonic spectrum of a complex sound. They are usually associated with, but not necessarily equal to some sort of resonance of the source. Because of their resonant origin, they tend to stay essentially the same when the frequency of the fundamental is changed. Formants in the sound of the human voice are particularly important because they are essential components in the intelligibility of speech. For example, the distinguishability of the vowel sounds can be attributed to the differences in their first three formant frequencies. Producing different vowel sounds amounts to retuning these formants within a general range of frequencies. Benade suggests the following ranges of frequencies for the formants of a male voice:

1st formant 150-850 Hz

2nd formant 500-2500 Hz

3rd formant 1500-3500 Hz

4th formant 2500-4800 Hz

The process of articulation determines the frequencies of the vocal formants. Sundberg has identified portions of the vocal anatomy which he associates with the formant frequencies. The jaw opening, which constricts the vocal tract toward the glottal end and expands it toward the lip end, is the deciding factor for the first formant. This formant frequency rises as the jaw is opened wider. The second formant is most sensitive to the shape of the body of the tongue, and the third formant is most sensitive to the tip of the tongue.

via Vowel Sounds

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