Special Poster Session: Speaker comfort and communication in noisy environments

Speaker comfort and communication in noisy environments


  • Simone Graetzer (Voice Biomechanics and Acoustics Laboratory, Michigan State University)
  • Oliver Niebuhr (IRCA, University of Southern Denmark)

In areas of high population growth and increasing population density, the issue of noise is gaining more and more attention. As recognised by the European Commission, prolonged exposure to high levels of ambient noise can lead to serious health effects, decreases in comfort during communication, and cognitive impairment. In Europe, there are strict regulations concerning noise limits, and the use of noise mitigation systems in residential areas of cities is being increasingly encouraged. Companies are integrating noise-cancelation technology as a default feature into everyday headphones. Car engines are becoming quieter and car bodies better insulated. The increasing importance of addressing noise issues is being reflected in research both in Europe and the U.S, and noise-related research has become increasingly dynamic and interdisciplinary over the last few decades. The Euronoise conferences, which started in 1992 in Great Britain, aim to bring together “science and technology for a quiet Europe”, focusing on environmental noise control and quality of life. Now, across Europe and the U.S., linguists, speech scientists, psychologists, engineers and acousticians are working together to investigate the effects of noise on communication.

Two important aspects of the disturbance caused by noise on speech are its effects on vocal effort (and therefore, speaker comfort) and speech intelligibility. The Lombard effect (Lombard, 1911) occurs when speech sound pressure level (SPL), and therefore vocal effort, is increased in the presence of loud background noise. The desire to achieve intelligibility in communication relates to the magnitude of the response to noise (e.g. Lane and Tranel, 1971). All of the primary parameters of prosody – fundamental frequency (fo), duration/rate, SPL, and spectral information – can be modified in noisy environments, and are involved in variation in effort and intelligibility.
This special session would invite submissions on the impact of noise on communication and speaker comfort, e.g., comfort in pitch, volume, speaking style and rate. The effect of style, noise and room acoustics on speech, and in particular on fo and SPL, and on talker intelligibility, could be discussed (Simone Graetzer, Pasquale Bottalico). Implications for occupational voice users, such as teachers, who report a high incidence of voice problems, and for students in the classroom, would be an important theme of the session (Jennifer Lund Whiting). There is still much to be investigated about the relationship between fo and intelligibility in real communicative situations, and the relationship between fo, gender and SPL for teachers. The session would also provide a forum for discussing recent developments in the study of vocal effort (Arianna Astolfi), acoustic clarity and the improvement of speaker comfort (Pasquale Bottalico, Simone Graetzer), and the enhancement of in-car communication (Rabea Landgraf, Oliver Niebuhr). Speech Prosody 2016 is the ideal forum for these discussions, given its interdisciplinary nature and its appreciation of the broader social, psychological and linguistic implications of degradation in communication.

Lane, H., and Tranel, B. (1971). “The Lombard sign and the role of hearing in speech,” Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 14, pp. 677-709.
Lombard, É. (1911). “Le signe de l’élévation de la voix,” Annales des Maladies de L’Oreille et du Larynx XXXVII (2), pp. 101–109.