• Mon, Dec 12 2011

‘Vocal Fry’ Is The New, Annoying Speaking Trend Among Young Women

You know how Britney Spears sounds when she sings the “oh baby, baby” line in “Hit Me Baby One More Time”? Kind of creaky, and groan-y?

Well, there’s an actual name for that sound — it’s called vocal fry, and researchers are discovering that it’s becoming increasingly prevalent among young women. Science Magazine reports:

A curious vocal pattern has crept into the speech of young adult women who speak American English: low, creaky vibrations, also called vocal fry. Pop singers…slip vocal fry into their music as a way to reach low notes and add style. Now, a new study of young women in New York state shows that the same guttural vibration—once considered a speech disorder—has become a language fad.

They go on to note that in a recent study of 34 college-aged women (an admittedly small sample size, but still), more than 2/3 of participants did vocal fry while talking.

I’m not going to mince words here — this is a pretty awful trend. Not only is it annoying to hear women speak like that (at one point, this method of speaking was simply called “Vally Girl”), but whether Britney Spears does it or your local co-ed does it, it sounds like the person is trying to be one of three things: 1. Whiny. 2. Sexy. 3. A Kardashian. Obviously, one and three are both terrible choices.

Number two is a little more complicated. If young women are learning that vocal fry is what sexy sounds like and then trying to emulate it, they’re not exactly exploring their sexuality so much as mimicking someone else’s. And while sounding sexy certainly has its place, unless you’re Angelina Jolie starring as an international spy/femme fatale, that place is not in everyday conversation. [tagbox tag="language"]

It’s worth noting that vocal fry used to be considered a speech impediment. Also, the reason it’s called “vocal fry” is because if you do it too much you can ruin your vocal chords. So in the interest of women maintaining their voices (interesting, isn’t it, that a speaking trend for young ladies is one that could cause them to not be able to speak at all? Put that in your gender studies pipe and smoke it), can we possibly come up with something else? Like, say, “loud and confident,” or even — I don’t know — “sounding like yourself”?

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  • Jenny

    Thank you for this article. I have a coworker who ends almost every sentence this way – with the last two or three words croaked out. It is bizarre.

  • Kayla

    I wonder if these young women are aware they are doing this.

  • Erin

    Interesting. I can almost imagine what this sounds like, based on the Britney song, but I’m still not sure what it would sounds like in normal speech. Can anyone find an audio or video example? I haven’t been able to.

  • kips

    I felt so validated that scientists noticed this habit and identified it as a PATHOLOGY. I haaaaaate this verbal tic. I’n so glad I don’t personally know anyone who talks this way. Here’s an example of it that’s actually not as extreme as what I usually hear on the 1 train in Manhattan: Kristin Wiig’s character in the “2 A-Holes” Sketches

  • kips
  • sascha

    yeah, this linguistic phenomenon has been around for a long, long time. linguists call it ‘creaky voice’ and you can read more about it on language log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3626

    by calling this ‘vocal fry’ and implying that when women talk this way, they injure their vocal cords, etc. it implicitly pathologizes women’s bodies. i don’t like the moral panic that is being built up around this speech pattern.

    • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

      I think you’re overstating a bit by calling this “moral panic.” Any time that a certain demographic — male or female, young or old — begins to modify their behavior in a similar way at a similar time, it’s worth looking into why that’s happening. The article you link to provides an interesting argument and it certainly adds to the conversation, but it does not prove that this is decisively NOT a current trend.

  • Bailey

    Spell check much? “vally” is spelled “valley” BTW.

  • Niki

    I think its absolutely hilarious that now that this study has come out and gotten some attention, all of the sudden everyone has always recognized vocal fry and always positively despised it.

    Vocal fry exists in varying degrees beyond Virgil Mastercard and Kim Kardashian, folks. You more than likely have bits of it in your own speaking voice.

  • Eileen

    I’m not entirely sure what this sounds like in speech, but women ruining their voices to lower the pitch isn’t new, e.g. Lauren Bacall. Could this maybe be women trying to be taken more seriously? (Heaven forbid you have a high, feminine voice!)

  • Nineveh

    a) Spoken vocal fry will not “ruin your vocal chords”. Quite the opposite; its use can help to remedy tension introduced through high-impact voice qualities.

    b) Vocal fry does not result in a “whiny” sound – again, quite the opposite. It is a low-pitch rumble.

    c) For those who wish to know what it sounds like, try making a sound like a door creaking on its hinges. There you go! Not too scary, is it?

    In conclusion: a lot of fuss over pretty much nothing. I would imagine it is a trend for no reason other than that it’s a trend – no underlying psychosexual reasons, no wanting to be a Kardashian. Its overuse may be annoying to listen to, but let’s not pathologise when we don’t have to, huh?

    • stonedome

      c’mon man, it’s the frantic conformist world of teenage girls…can’t wait until their mothers join in to try to be their friend, then it will fade away as these teenage mental midgets move on to the next trend. commercial trend slaves all with their parents permission

  • katjaanjuli

    Try the SNL Kardashian spoof for an example of vocal fry being used in ‘normal conversation’ (although it never seems normal to me, always very affected).

    Listen to the way ‘Kim’ lilts when she says “divorce” in the opening line:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9p8wLR-h8Gs

  • Emily

    I’ll have to agree with Nineveh. I’ve had vocal fry since puberty, and its nothing more than the way I naturally speak. Its also probably a voice relief, since I sing so much.

    • Lydia Lunch

      you make it sound like a virus. voice relief? pls. its an affectation, that’s all. it was rare to hear people speak like this until this annoying trend came around. p.s. I’m a speech pathologist. and YES you CAN hurt your voicebox doing this. Check back in 10 years or less you’ll wish you didn’t sound like a haggard old smoker.

  • Christine

    I’m SICK of listening to this vocal fry in young women’s speech!! First of all, when I hear it, I feel like I need to clear my throat! Secondly and most important, I think it takes all credibility away from young females. If you are a professional woman who speaks with vocal fry, PLEASE lose it – especially if you expect to move ahead in the professional world!!!!