Phones &

Back to list of projects
Acoustics of the Vowel – Preliminaries


There seems to be general consensus as to how vowels are produced and, in consequence, what their acoustic characteristics are: We phonate and articulate. The vibration of the vocal chords generates sound or noise that is transformed into a specific sound pattern by the resonances of the pharynx and oral and nasal cavities, i.e., by the vocal tract. Accordingly, vowels are characterized acoustically by means of energy maxima in the spectrum, by so-called "formants".


However, with regard to such an understanding of the acoustics of vowels, intellectual reasoning and empirical observation give substantial grounds to skepticism. The present project attempts to formulate, interrelate and comment on the corresponding reasons in detail and illustrate them by means of exemplary compilations of vowel sounds. In doing so, we attempt to show that, although robust indications about the acoustic representation of vowels exist for specific conditions of speaking, there still is a lack of comprehensive knowledge and general predictability of language-specific acoustic characteristics of vowels in their proper sense, hindering in particular the analysis of expressive utterances in every day life as well as vocal expressions in entertainment, singing and acting. Thus, the basic question of the acoustics of voice and voiced speech still remains unanswered.

Project Duration

Part 1: 1/10/2011 to 31/3/2013 (German version, 1st edition)
Part 2: 1/10/2013 to 31/10/2015 (English version, 2nd edition, extended and revised, including two new sections Materials and Experiments)


Dieter Maurer, project head, author
Christian d'Heureuse, Inventec Informatik AG Switzerland, software development

Publication (German Version, 1st edition)

Anton Rey, editor
Yvonne Schmidt, editorial work
druckreif, Zurich, editorial office
Jeannine Hermann, layout

>> Link to publication (book, de)
>> Link to materials (digital, de)
>> Link to E-shop

Publication (English Version, 2nd edition)

In press
Bern/Frankfurt: Peter Lang


Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)
Institute for the Perfomring Arts and Film (IPF)

Financial Support

Konsortium W6 Switzerland (German version, 1st edition)
Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF, program OAPEN-CH,
grant no. B-OA10_163510 (English version, 2nd edition)