Like other regular readers of Andrew Sullivan's web log, I was not surprised that he was happy about Sarah Palin's decision not to run for U.S. president in 2012. However, one aspect of his commentary ("Rejoice!", 10/5/2011) did surprise me. The puzzle is in the second sentence:
Our Three Year National Nightmare Is Over!
Palin talks to Mark Levin here (her voice is the deeper one).
Mark Levin is a radio talk show host, and Sullivan's link goes to a page on Levin's web site that includes not only the text of Palin's statement, but also accesses an mp3 file of a 15-minute segment of his show. My interest here, of course, is not in the politics but in the phonetics. Is it really true that Sarah Palin's voice is deeper (i.e. lower in pitch) than Mark Levin's?
Not in this interview, certainly. I've pitch tracked the initial segment, where Levin reads the text of Palin's statement, a 2:30-long segment that starts this way:
And also Sarah Palin's answer to one of Levin's questions, a 1:15-long segment that starts like this:
Here's the result, displaying the quantiles of fundamental frequency as in some previous posts:
And in tabular form:
In general, Sarah Palin's voice in this interview is about 50% higher than Mark Levin's – corresponding to a musical interval of a fifth.
So what was Andrew Sullivan thinking? I don't think that he was reacting to a perception of Sarah Palin's voice as unusually low for an American woman. He has certainly never accused her of an excessively masculine persona; and as a matter of fact, her pitch range in this interview is somewhat higher than the values for a sample of American women in conversational settings that I reported a few years ago ("Nationality, gender and pitch", 11/12/2007):
(The data is not entirely comparable, since she is doing an important interview from a remote location, and so her level of physiological arousal and vocal projection is probably greater than it would be in an informal telephone conversation; but let's say at least that her pitch range is by no means unexpectedly "deep".)
On the other hand, Mr. Levin's voice is somewhat higher than that of most professional male speakers, including male politicians. Here's a comparison to which I've added the F0 quantiles from Barack Obama's weekly address of 8/6/2011 and Ronald Reagan's weekly address of 5/8/1982:
So that little parenthetical dig "her voice is the deeper one" is probably aimed at Levin rather than at Palin. But what still puzzles me is why Andrew Sullivan chose to add that parenthetical comment in the first place. Is he trying to tell us that Mark Levin has a girlie voice, or at least an insufficiently masculine one? That seems inconsistent with Sullivan's general take on sexual politics.