Deep-voiced "vocal fry" thought to be creeping into American women's speech

Discuss

179 Responses to “Deep-voiced "vocal fry" thought to be creeping into American women's speech”

  1. commentinganonymously says:

    this is all britney’s fault.

    • ablestmage says:

      I find it a very attractive quality in women.

      I never really liked Britney Spears visually, but the raspiness of her voice in the initial portions of certain words and verses, such as from “Baby One More Time” is what caught my attention.  

      It sounds to me like the speaker is “otherwise pleased” in a manner indirectly connected to speaking, and that pleasure is leaked inadvertently into speaking, as a kind of “tell” of emotion behind the words.

      There is also a “voice”/instrument/sample that I like, used in goa-trance, that generates a similar aural pattern, rapidly changing from deeper rasp to a clear tone, akin to playing the ridged stick percussion instrument in the fashion of striking a match, from a still position, starting slowly and quickly increasing its speed toward the end (instead of a steady speed all the way across).

  2. mat catastrophe says:

    Am I bovvered? Look at my face.

  3. woodyb says:

    So glad someone else noticed it. I  call it “NPR gargle” because I hear it on the radio all the time.

    • Ben Ehlers says:

      I only read this thread to see if anyone else caught this too! I just thought they had nice voices… 

      /digs chicks with vocal fry

    • obeyken says:

      Exactly!  This immediately made me think of the style of speech in This American Life.

      • dopefiend says:

        Exactly! The women on This American Life all seem to do it, and it drives me crazy- and not in a good way. How could anyone find this croaky, lazy form of speech attractive? Surely of all people broadcasters should know how to annunciate properly without sounding like even opening their mouth is too much effort to bear!

        • vajazzlesaurus rex says:

          Funny, since Ira Glass does this ALL the time, but I only see commenters bitching about the “women of TAL” and the “females of NPR.” Typical. WHEN will the hoes stop bothering us  with their TALKING?!  Bitches be uptalking/vocal frying/saying ‘like’ too much.

    • morganw says:

      Zoe Chace does it a lot, but also has an interesting mid-Atlantic accent and a somewhat *high* voice, so that descent into buzzing is quite dramatic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzgXE5SsCHM

  4. glurpo says:

    “Welcome to Democracy Now, democracy now dot org – I’m Amy Goodman.”

  5. BunnyShank says:

    Nah, its been studied for a while.  Its a sign of assumed entitlement and prestige within a social group. Like you have so much prestige in your group you can afford to growl away parts of your sentence, literally not wasting your breath. In English speakers that is.

    • knoxblox says:

      I hope this signals the end of the tongue smack.

      “I dunno”. *smack* “Dat boy can go fuck himself!” *smack* “I don’ care.” *smack* “What-eva”.

    • ablestmage says:

      I think the people who believe this is a used by people with entitlement beliefs, are just prescriptive linguists who don’t understand how language naturally develops..

      • Lemoutan says:

        Why is an entitlement belief incompatible with an understanding of how language develops? Only arskin’ like.

        Being a foreigner, I don’t ever hear creakspeak, as I call it, in situ. I only ever hear it in US TV imports, only ever by teenagers (or folk under 30), and only ever in the context of the generally affluent. I’m assuming (but may be wrong – maybe y’all do actually live like that) that TV-land is still an aspirational fantasy pretty alien to the majority of real people of the USA.

        At least creakspeak and upspeak is next to impossible to engineer simultaneously.

    • SomeGuyNamedMark says:

      More likely it is just lazy speaking.  Similar to how the word “like” is used by teenage girls in every sentence as a form of noncommittal speaking or how some speakers use “ahhhhh” and “ummm” to avoid a silent pause.

      • BunnyShank says:

        Very possible, however it occurs simultaneously on fillers like “um” in American speakers, and it is observed in the speech of older upper class British ladies who use Received Pronunciation and is seen as a sign of  “Noblesse Oblige”.
        They do not use fillers.

  6. Gbaji says:

    the same guttural vibration—once considered a speech disorder—has become a language fad.

    Since language and accents are learned socially, is there a clinical distinction here?  I don’t know how many times I’ve been driven to distraction by some speech pattern, only to later learn that it was a previously unidentified (sub)regional accent.  When I was in grade school, I received special attention to “correct” parts of my speech, and as an adult I’ve wondered whether I’m over-sensitive to “deviant” speech patterns as a result.  The first thing I would as a speech scientist today is whether they have a robust definition of “speech disorder” that doesn’t admit of ethnological blurring.

    • BunnyShank says:

      We do now. Basically its about communicative function and effectiveness, but there is no doubt that in the past speech scientists based their norms on personal bias. Being a speech therapist is the most controlling thing ever, and it attracts the people who are focused on “the right way to do it.”

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Being a speech therapist is the most controlling thing ever, and it attracts the people who are focused on “the right way to do it.”

        Trying to make David Sedaris lose his lisp might be controlling, but trying to avoid vocal cord nodules seems like a pretty good idea. I know a couple of people who had to learn not to do this after having reparative surgery.

        • scifijazznik says:

          I do enjoy eating marine life.

        • BunnyShank says:

          Its not a bad thing to be controlling. You don’t want someone who flies by the seat of their pants thinking about how you communicate. You do want someone who puts the patient above their need to control.

      • Sukis says:

        Are you kidding me? You do realize that speech therapists help people with things like stutters so severe that they prevent people from doing something as simple as participating in a class discussion, or regaining the ability to swallow after having a severe stroke? I actually KNOW what I am talking about since after years of being practically unintelligible, I was helped a tremendous deal by getting speech therapy when I was younger. Years later, my dad had a horrible stroke that left him unable to talk, unable to even swallow (dysphagia). The hospital speech therapist gave him back those abilities. Please watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly some day and get a glimpse of the kind of the real work speech therapists do every day because I think your comment was full of bias and the most ignorant thing ever.

        • selfish says:

          While I totally agree with your sentiment – that speechies do amazing, life building work, especially with children, I think there’s something to be said for admitting that it’s a profession that attracts a certain type of person – like teaching attracts maternal women (not to say all teachers are, but that maternal women are often attracted to the profession), or engineering attracts geeky men, or the military attracts people who like guns and authority. 

          IMH experience, the speeches I’ve met socially have been grammar nazis and etiquette freaks too. Nice people, for sure, but also quite interested in the RIGHT way to do things. 

        • BunnyShank says:

          Are you kidding me homie, how do you think I know this? If you couldn’t tell, I am one of those hyper controlling freaks that make people like you and others do some of the most difficult work anyone can ever do. It was you that increased your intelligibility, it was your dad that regained his abilities, all we did was be hyper-vigilant and (thankfully in your case) pleasant about all the ways you used to get there.

      • Steve Taylor says:

        Is that so? A speech therapist helped  me get rid of an embarrassing lisp when I was a kid. What a nasty controlling woman she was…

      • BunnyShank says:

        You guys say “controlling”  like its a bad thing ;)

        • Jerril says:

          No, everyone’s “hearing” controlling like it’s an unqualified bad thing.

          It’s a mixed thing. I had speech therapy, and I’m grateful, but I was lucky that my accent was already pretty close to my therapist’s preferred accent. Some of the other students weren’t as lucky and along with having actual problems (stuttering, severe lisp, etc) corrected, they had their accent scoured right out of them.

          She did a lot of good, but she also did damage.

          • BunnyShank says:

            I think of “controlling” as neutral, a tool.  It sounds like what your speech therapist had was bigotry. 

            One does not want a lackadaisical speech pathologist, one does want a speech pathologist who is able to remove personal bias from their treatment as much as possible. 

            Its gotta be about the patient first and foremost.

            We know historically medicine in general has had to grow into this perspective.

            If Eliza Doolittle came through the schools now as a prospective patient, she’d not be a candidate because of dialectical variation. Dr. Higgins would be charged on inappropriate practice. 

            Before we knew anything about glottal fry, we thought it was a damaging phonatory pattern. Then we saw that English wasn’t the center of the universe, and that other languages used it as part of their sound system. Then we had to become observers. And how do controlling people compensate when they have to watch and not do? Paperwork!

          • cdh1971 says:

            I had a speech therapist who tried to rid me of a slight lisp that was causing me absolutely no issues and also tried to ‘cure’ me of being left-handed and remnants of southern pronunciation picked up after living there two years. She also openly mocked a teacher from Canada, and made snide hitler references whenever a German exchange student was present. This was in middle-school.

            When I was 4 I had very effective speech therapy for my R’s from a delightful therapist. Every profession has its quacks and the middle-school therapist was simply an idiot. I’ve attached a likeness of her – click to enlarge.

      • artaxerxes says:

        That finally explains why my mother became a speech therapist. Thank you.

  7. oldtaku says:

    You know… I don’t really mind vocal fry.

    Because? Without it? The default? Speech pattern? For women? Seems to be? Like this?  And I’ll? Take Kathleen Turner-like? Vocal burr? Over this? Querulous style? Any day?
     

  8. Travis Fredericks says:

    I’m a 22 year old male, and the voice in the example is how I always speak in conversation. Not the valley girl up and down thing but a monotone gravelly sort of voice. Come to think of it, so do my father and brothers. I wonder if that counts in their survey.

  9. David Nunez says:

    Louis CK deals with a whole coffee shop filled w/ vocal fries after a hangover. (starts at 1:00 & parts nsfw):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ51BNYXbV4

  10. Jim Saul says:

    That happens to non-smokers too?

  11. Andrew Clark says:

    I’d be worried: I’m pretty sure this is how the Bene Gesserit  got started. Are high-school girls looking for a Kwisatz Haderach already?

  12. AwesomeRobot says:

    Personally, I blame the 2004 remake of the Japanese horror classic, The Grudge. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-_JMbq45cE

    • Stephanie Williams says:

      I do the vocal fry, voluntarily, to freak friends out. Only the people who have watched The Grudge get it. Guess I’ll stop now that it would damage my voice /shrug

  13. Ianto_Jones says:

    I don’t think I have ever heard this in normal conversation.  Can someone give an example? The Mp3 in the article isn’t very helpful since it just describes the sound itself and not the usage of the sound in say a normal sentence.

    • Artimus Mangilord says:

      Whenever I’ve heard that, it’s as an audible pause, rather than using ‘um’ or ‘uh’.

    • rememberate says:

      Actually, the sentences used in the MP3 are not only describing the sound but demonstrating it as well. For instance, in the first sentence, when the word “registers” is said, the vocal fry occurs on the last syllable.

      It’s where the air runs out and the voice starts to break, if that helps. I feel like it happens in normal conversation all the time. (Of course, I’m a college-age American English speaking woman!)

    • Josh Freeman says:

      Apparently Grammar Girl is guilty of it. Listen to the end of just about every sentence she speaks.

      http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

      • Erational says:

        Yikes, that’s what it is? I *hate* that — I turn off the radio or mute the tv when I hear it. And I was shocked when I first heard Grammar Girl speak — from her writing, she is obviously a very intelligible and knowledgeable person, so I was left baffled by her “dumb-girl” speaking style.

        • there is nothing “dumb-girl” about happening to end certain statements with a slight tightening of the glottis. It’s just a speech style. No rational reason to stigmatize it in any way.

          We all make connections like this, unfortunately. I tend to connect a southern american accent with certain traits. That’s a false bias I have to work to get over.

          • Erational says:

            Well, yes, that’s why I put “dumb-girl” in quotes and stated what I did about GG’s writing.

            There’s nothing *inherently* right or wrong about a speaking style, but this vocal-fry style does suggest that the girl/woman in question is more likely to have absorbed her speaking style from watching tv and movies, and/or spending an inordinate amount of time around her same-age peers. I also hear it often in young women who are second-generation immigrants, whose English is almost solely acquired from peers and media, as they speak their parent’s native language at home. I rarely hear it from girls of the same age group who had English-only upbringings, especially if they had stay-at-home mothers or other family situations in which English interactions with parents were frequent. Ironically, girls from the former group often have professional parents who strongly emphasize education, but aren’t able to prevent (or, are unaware of) the disadvantages that this stigmatized speech style have for their offspring’s own academic and professional advancement.

        • noah django says:

          Hi.  I live in the South US.  I guarantee that if you ain’t from ’round here, I will find strange, klunky, bizarre patterns in your speech.  I will chalk it up to you not being from ’round here.  Same with Abbie.  I will have the decency to not stigmatize either of you for it.  Please get over yourselves, because based on y’alls’ posts, you sound like snobs.  That is all.

      • Ian Dahlberg says:

        Yes – I like Grammar Girl’s stuff but can’t stand the ‘fry’. NPR as well, This American Life etc. I hate vocal fry. Am glad to learn the term for it.

      • Groove Stomp says:

        Wow.  Thanks for this post, as it clearly illustrates vocal fry.  *shudders*
        Apparently I am not a fan of this speech style. :)

        [edit] My throat already hurts just from listening to this. Ouch…

      • I think her natural style is being enhanced by the Podcasting->”Female Radio” setting in Garageband (or its equivalent). 

      • Thomas D says:

        In that Grammar Girl clip, what interests me as much as the vocal fry is another quirk I’ve noticed a lot in the past five or six years, particularly among 20somethings: Listen to the way she pronounces “com” (in the “dot-com”) just after the 39-second mark.

        It’s bizarre. It’s is as if she’s saying it in the back of her mouth or something.

        She’s not even a particularly egregious example. There are far worse offenders out there on the “com” front.

  14. Michelle Jordan says:

    Daria?

  15. sata blank says:

    You know, I have spoken that way for as long as I can remember (  late 20 something female ) I think I speak that way because I have always been in male dominated social circles and professions, and I probably dropped my voice and picked up a male monotone-ish speaking style to fit in better.  Just my two cents.

  16. Antinous / Moderator says:

    My best friend and I used to do this in high school back in the 70s.  We had a contest to see if we could get down to one click per minute.

  17. zachstronaut says:

    What has been heard cannot be unheard.

    • Nathaniel Stephens says:

      i was thinking the same thing.  damn it.  never really “noticed” it before, and never would have thought it had a name.  should have just gone to bed and not checked Boing Boing real quick.

  18. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Also, kargyraa.

    • kartwaffles says:

      Thank you Antinous! It bugs me when Western vocal-type people claim that “vocal fry” is the lowest possible sound in human voice. Kagryraa voice amplifies the subharmonics while suppressing the higher frequencies. It can be built upon any register, not just fry.

  19. WaylonWillie says:

    Hmm, I’m still not quite getting it. Can anyone find an example in natural speech?

    • xkot says:

      (Sorry if this is a double-post, but) check out some Janeane Garofalo on YouTube, Waylon, and you’ll hear the fry in her voice.

  20. GoGo Vicmorrow says:

    It’s just “indifferent hispter” voice. I didn’t get it either, but my girlfriend knew immediately. The poster above nailed it with the louis ck video. Just repeat “eh, so-so” like you’re really depressed until you actually are depressed and then you got it.

  21. Flashman says:

    Jeff Spicoli:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf5rIuJPTt0

    I’ve got a friend from back home who speaks like this -sometimes- and it is so irritating. I could post a phone message he left a couple of days ago as a prime example.

  22. “Abdelli-Beruh says the creak is unlikely to damage vocal chords”

    This a non-issue. There is a type of phonation called the “creaky voice”. It creaks. That is what this is, just combined with a low tone.

    Are people who speak languages with creaky vowels suffering health issues?

    It’s called language. There is natural variation. Sometimes it sounds weird to you. Deal.

    Wish a linguist would weigh in. Bad linguistics journalism worse than bad science journalism.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I’m sorry – you’re not a linguist or a speech therapist or presumably a throat doctor, but you want to tell the experts to shut up?

    • Jonathan Roberts says:

      Language Log has a short article about ‘The Affect’ which includes creaky voice, or laryngealisation as it’s also known.   You can annotate it by using a tilde symbol under the vowel where it’s used. Here’s the link:
      http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002949.html

      • good link!

        Key bit:
        “Despite the lack of descriptive precision in the article, it serves at least as a vague indication of what counts as stigmatized these days in American youth speech”

        Stigmatization.

        The wikipedia page on “vocal fry” has some good info too.

        I don’t see how this is possibly any sort of “speech disorder” when it’s part of a dialect.

        • Jonathan Roberts says:

          I think the reference to a speech disorder could be because it can be a sign of damage to the vocal folds, rather than the direct cause of the damage.

          • Tess says:

            So it doesn’t *cause* a speech disorder, but has been seen as one part of a diagnostic process in the past?  that makes more sense.

      • Jonathan Roberts says:

        Apparently you can get contact ulcers and granulomas from putting excessive strain on your vocal folds. The main causes of this seem to be reflux, although excessive coughing and throat clearing and abusive voice habits are also major factors. I am a linguistics student, but this is in no way my area of study; I just picked it up from ‘Voice work: art and science in changing voices’ by Christina Shewell (p425). I’d say you’d need to get a lot worse than what you usually hear before causing proper damage though.

  23. Wayne Dyer says:

    I’m confused — I take it that I’m supposed to be alarmed about this, I’m just not sure what I need to do.  Someone please tell me how we can save the vocal cords of today’s youth.  Is there a foundation set up yet?  A website?  Instructive YouTube PSAs?

  24. Melinda9 says:

    I’ve noticed this for at least 15 years – I call it scratchy voice. I wouldn’t call it speaking in a low register – that would be more like Lauren Bacall. They speak in a high register and the words trail off into this scratchy sound.

  25. KurtMac says:

    So, in other words, the women of America are turning into Marge Simpson?

  26. David Nunez says:

    Rachel Zoe and her minions all suffer from this also:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym8WCwAAfTA

    To what extent are speech patterns like this related to fashion?  How do people acquire accents / speech patterns later in life that are related to social or intellectual status?

    • suzy beal says:

      THANK you. I hear this all the time, but Zoe and co. take it to a ridiculous extreme. Presuming Zoe has seen her own show, doesn’t she realize how terrible it sounds?  I do feel it’s a function of wanting to sound cool on some level, and that it possibly started by people aping speech patterns of various figures in pop culture. Who started it, I have no idea.
      I remember watching a documentary where some 5th grade girls in New York were being interviewed, and they sounded young and normal, until one was asked where she lived. She answered “Tribeca” with the final syllable suddenly dropping into a bored/cool fry, which sounded comical coming from such little vocal cords.

    • This may help? http://e n.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register_(sociolinguistics) I know there’s such thing as an “affected” register among social groups- think “posh” speech, or whatever the hell Kelsey Grammer affects. 

      I’ve also heard the “fashion is language” argument, which is very interesting. Both are highly arbitrary, subjective, and inexplicable.

  27. Frank Ellis says:

    Wow. As a South African, I’ve always been fascinated by this habit. To a foreigner like myself, American girls often sound exhausted or fatigued in some way. The creak makes you sound really tired. 

  28. rattypilgrim says:

    I’ve noticed this irritating habit for a couple of years at least. I’m nor sure which I hate more: the voice ( from women and men) that ends on a high note as if asking a question, thus negating the speakers authority on a given subject, say, national security, etc. 
    The vocal-fry has the same high school clique-ish, shallow, self important ring to it.
    That said, it must be interesting  to a linguist to watch these little niches of dialects evolve so quickly in our techno or is it corporate media driven society which includes the entertainment industry aimed at pre/tween/teens?

  29. st vincent says:

    A little vocal fry goes a long way. To be sure, it can be an interesting way to dress up speech, but when overused sounds dispassionate and detached.  It also can be hard to hear!

    Another short example, particularly toward the end of the clip:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWs3I9EvQZo

  30. as apposed to 100 years ago, when having a high squeaky “flapper” voice was sexy….

    (think Betty Boop)

  31. skyhawk1 says:

    I first noticed it with Lucy Liu a few years back.

  32. kmoser says:

    My theory: it’s caused by people lacking confidence in what they’re saying, so instead of breathing out sufficiently while talking they hold their breath back, in the process causing their voice to deepen. The fact that a deeper voice may sound more confident is largely an unintended byproduct, although it may serve to reinforce the whole affectation in some people.

  33. atimoshenko says:

    I’ve been told that I do this quite frequently (and I’m a guy), but as far as I could figure out, it is because I do not take enough breaths as I speak (pushing out words on the last bit of air -> vocal fry). Could this just be a case of spreading inattentiveness to good diction?

  34. Tess says:

    I’m pretty sure I do this.  **shrug**  I’m no hipster, and I’m older than college-age.  I just speak in the lower part of my register a lot of the time.  I never knew it was a thing that had a name or that people would think sounded odd.

    I’m pretty sure I don’t sound overly affected or anything.  But this sounds normal enough to me.

  35. fergus1948 says:

    My god! 
    90 responses and not one person has spotted the seeds of a sinister Al Qaeda plot!
    Watch out, America! They’re messing with your women!

  36. Mary Hanley says:

    Is there a link between vocal fry and hypothyroidism?  I’m a woman in my mid forties, and I find myself slipping into this low register a lot.  I usually have to stop for a moment and ‘reset’ my voice before I go on, or I’ll just keep dropping until my voice is a gurgle.  It’s unnerving.

  37. TheMudshark says:

    Frying their vocals might be a bit extreme but if most American women could give the lower registers of their voice a try every once in a while I won´t be one to complain.

  38. gordonjcp says:

    My friend’s daughter does this, presumably from watching American TV programmes.  It’s forgivable, though,because for a six-year-old she does a pretty damn good Death Metal Grunt.

  39. sean says:

    We can thank Lurch of THE ADDAMS FAMILY show from the 60′s for this speech pattern. I use this “tone” often; whenever I encounter something HOPELESSLY stupid- too stupid to ever be fixed  and thus not even worth discussing- THIS is the verbal reaction I use. Like Kip in FUTURAMA, but deeper and lower. And I’m a male.
    Doesn’t seem so odd or sinister to me.

  40. Madzia says:

    I do this, not because of a fad but because that’s just what my voice is like sometimes, but I don’t drawl…and I think the worst thing here isn’t the creak but the stretching out of vowels, which makes the speaker sound dispassionate, exhausted, even slow of wit.

    I wish I had the right vocabulary to describe this. Or the gumption to record a sound clip exemplifying what I mean.

  41. loroferoz says:

    I live in Denmark. 

    The language here has been characterized as “Not a language – A throat infection” Speaking it properly is a slow murder of the vocal apparatus. They actually use the glottis to stop air flow. Creaky voice is the gentlest thing they do here.

    Understanding spoken Danish is at best educated guessing. At times I feel like I am talking to N!xau.  But I am progressing fast. Not with the murder of my vocal chords, though. I still refuse that.
    And I am thankful for all the (I hope many) foreigners (Native speakers of Arabic some of them, go figure if theirs is the softer language what with the laryngeal rasping) who produce something closer to the understandable cousin of Danish, Norwegian.So what? It’s not like the English language transformed into something entirely made of damaging sounds. It’s not like Denmark.

  42. squeeziecat says:

    women are taken more seriously when they drop their vocal register (ie: to sound more like men). Margaret Thatcher famously took vocal lessons to lower her voice. I worked in (public) radio for 20 years and can assure you that women with lower, less “emotional” voices got further than those with high, song-like speech. 

    yes, it does make for a sexy bedroom voice. and as an amateur singer, I love the effect that vocal fry can give certain phrases, just as I enjoy playing with overtone singing – both add colour and richness to the palette. but that doesn’t mean one should sound “fried” all the time. it really can wreck the vocal chords and could even lead to an increased chance of throat cancer:  singers.http://www.fotuva.org/music/wash_post_96915.html  “researchers …  found evidence of swelling, blood vessel growth, and even a form of chronic inflammation that can lead to cancer, in the throats of some singers.”

  43. Jerril says:

    My aunt is in her 60s and has sounded like that all her life. My voice started doing it in my late teens (this was 15 years ago, so not a “trend” and I was a social pariah anyways) – but my mother used to give me crap every time it happened for “trying to make myself sound like my Aunt”. Which was like, what? I take after my dad’s side of the family anyways, not surprised I sound like her.

  44. donovan acree says:

    I taught myself to do that with my voice because of Froggy from the Little Rascals

  45. jennybean42 says:

    I got sick a couple of months ago, and lost my voice for more than a week. I’m better, but something actually happened during that time that changed my vocal cords. The doctor told me not to worry about it, but I find myself creaking on the low end, and squeaking on the high end a LOT more……

  46. Yacko says:

    Isn’t this just Julie Kavner voicing Selma, Patty and Marge?

  47. Deidzoeb says:

    zomg, there is a name for that annoying thing female announcers do on Michigan public radio! Also the guy on NPR who reads the commercials that they pretend are not actually commercials, and he does it in this robotic way to make it sound like he’s not emotionally invested in any of the movies or products or companies he’s reading bland PR text about.

    Frank Tavarres. Here he is in an interview, reading the lyrics of Welcome to the Jungle, segments from Mommy Dearest, etc.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1423568

    • Thomas D says:

      Really? I don’t think that’s what is meant by “vocal fry.”

      There seems to be a misconception by many in this thread (and others I’ve seen online about this topic). This “fry” business is not about that rolling vocal resonance that you’ll hear in a stout-voiced radio DJ or whatever. That sort of delivery has been around forever, and people with such voices make great public speakers/broadcasters/narrators/whatever.

      This is about a very specific vocal affectation that’s been recently adopted by some American women. That’s all.

      • Deidzoeb says:

        I’m probably wrong about Frank Tavarres because his voice constantly sounds weird, but I stand by the diagnosis of vocal fry in the female announcers on Michigan Radio, especially the ones who jump in between network shows to mention the temp or weather or upcoming shows. They trail off into the same noticeable vibrations given in that mp3 sample link from the post.
        http://www.michiganradio.org/

        • Thomas D says:

          Oh, absolutely, I believe you. It’s definitely out there, including on the radio.

          I just think some in this thread are attributing “vocal fry” to stuff that isn’t actually vocal fry.

  48. blueelm says:

    This is interesting. I don’t talk like that because if I do then I can’t sing. But the other option is to have people criticize you for having a high female voice. Considering that most women are lyric sopranos this would be the same as requiring virtually all men to speak in falsetto if they want anyone to listen to them.

    Perhaps we should just speak through vocoders so that our horrible female voices don’t offend the delicate ears of men.

    • dnebdal says:

      Uhm, is that a problem? The normal female voice seems perfectly fine to me, but are there actually people who will criticize you for speaking in that range – beyond the normal fringe that will hate anyone for anything?

      • blueelm says:

        Totally. I tend to use a soft voice and go for good placement when speaking with a lower voice now, but honestly I’ve actually taken lessons to make sure I speak in the lower register without doing the fry thing (which I never knew the name for until this post, actually). For a long time I thought I was an alto because I had learned to lower my voice poorly and it broke when I went out of that range. This is because I spent my entire youth being told to speak with a lower more masculine voice. Outright. I used to do speech/debate, for instance, and one thing you definitely learn is that you win with a low voice and lose with a high voice. 

        The results speak for themselves. You use a lower voice.

        • dnebdal says:

          Right, that’s … more surprising than I guess it should have been.

          I wonder how much is sheer anti-feminine social structure, and how much has to do with what sounds better after passing through a not-always-great sound/transmitter chain? (Probably a lot of the former.)

          • blueelm says:

            Part is anti-feminine, but part is also I think that women and children both have higher voices. Women are closely connected with the idea of children. We don’t take children’s opinions seriously, so it makes sense that if you are serious you would sound less like a child and less like something that is connected to the idea of children socially. Less like a child and less like a woman = more serious.  You can accomplish this line of thought without ever having a negative thought about women at all. I don’t know, but that’s the sort of simple hierarchical organization that always seemed most likely to me. 

          • marilove says:

            “You can accomplish this line of thought without ever having a negative thought about women at all. ”

            Uh.  No.  You can’t.  Grown women are not children no matter how high their voices are.  To compare GROWN WOMEN to children just because the voice happens to be higher, is to completely ignore that the woman in question is a grown up, and not a child. I’d also argue that most women don’t sound like children, even if their voices are higher than men’s voices. But to automatically associate “grown woman with a high voice is to be taken less seriously because she sounds like a child, so she must be as innocent and inexperiencesd as a child” is a very negative thought about women. You aren’t considering their thoughts, or ideas, or experiences; you are only considering their vocal range, which is something they can’t always control. You are stereotyping women because of their vocal range. That is a very negative, bigoted way to think.

          • blueelm says:

            “Uh.  No.  You can’t. ”

            Fair enough. What I should have said was “consciously having a negative thought”

            I am, after all, explaining how people with certain privileges can be unaware of why things seem a way. It doesn’t make it right. However, if you have any concern to change things it’s best to try to identify how they are operating.

            “You aren’t considering their thoughts, or ideas, or experiences; you are only considering their vocal range, which is something they can’t always control. You are stereotyping women because of their vocal range. That is a very negative, bigoted way to think.”

            This is idiotic when you consider that I shared my own story, as a woman with a high vocal range, and the negative way this impacted me… 

            I guess my thoughts and feelings don’t matter :/

            Protip: discussing how discrimination can work in people’s minds is not excusing it. Thanks.

          • marilove says:

            For the record, when I said, “You”, I meant “general you”, not you specifically!  Sorry about that.

            “Fair enough. What I should have said was “consciously having a negative thought””

            Thanks for the clarification.  I do agree a little more with your points now that I understand them a bit better.

            However, I do wish more people didn’t just stick their head in the sand, in regards to privilege, stereotyping, etc.  So many people just aren’t at all self-aware.  I’m sure I, too, am not always fully aware of my privileges, but at least I try, and I don’t just stick my fingers in my ears and claim privilege doesn’t exist.

            Our world would be a much better place if people were more self-aware.

      • marilove says:

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2055214/How-Laurence-Olivier-gave-Margaret-Thatcher-voice-went-history.html
        Even Margaret Thatcher new this.

        There’s a YouTube video that shows what her voice was like before her voice lessons, and what it was like after.  It’s astounding.  Can’t seem to find it at this moment, though.

        Men hold unconscious biases about women and how they act and talk.  This is evident.  This isn’t new.

  49. blueelm says:

    I’d be happy to talk through a typepad that borrows Ellen McClain’s GLaDOS voice.

  50. Roy Irby says:

    Damned Bene Gesserit Witches…

  51. Art says:

    I’ve heard this affectation for the last few years. 

    Didn’t know where the influence was coming from.

  52. David Yoon says:

    This reminds me of back in high school when certain girls started doing something (never found out what or how) to make their voices dry and squeaky, like Debbie Gibson singing that “Could’ve Been” song. 

  53. exoskeletor says:

    Well thanks for that. Now I’ll never be able to not notice it and it’ll be a thing and whatever just another tick in my brain.

    Also, leave Britney alone.

  54. Shawn Wolfe says:

    Grown women who pronounce ‘buttons’ as BUH-IHNS… I’m just sayin

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      You mean replacing ‘T’ with a glottal stop? It’s a common feature of regional accents, such as Cockney.

      • Donald Petersen says:

        My first wife habitually overcorrected the other direction, going out of her way to overenunciate the Ts in buttons, mittens, and kittens.  She also habitually referred to a quarter as “a twenty-five cents.”  As in, “I just found a twenty-five cents on the floor.”

        She was cute, but kooky.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Why is it that Americans think that Brits sound educated when they enunciate but Americans sound affected? No doubt related to our unwillingness to trust a government official who isn’t stupider than us.

      • Gyrofrog says:

        I had a door-to-door canvasser stop by, who had both “glottal T” and the uptalk.  “So we’re out looking for some suppor’?”

  55. Rich Keller says:

    So, what’s wrong with young women ending their sentences with a little echo-location now and again?

  56. altcode says:

    Youngish Canadian dude here and I have never once noticed this before just now. Upon closer inspection, my normal speech pattern (and those of my friends) involves dropping into this regularly. I guess it’s one of those things that isn’t annoying because you don’t know it’s there without studying it, like the way we pronounce “out” compared to Americans.

    • Erational says:

      Thirty-something Canadian girl here, and I notice it constantly among people (girls, mostly) in their mid/high twenties and below. The difference is primarily generational, and, I suspect, has a lot to do with the American media consumed by young people here, particularly as its influence is now rarely counterbalanced by extended exposure to the moderating effect of parents’ speech (daily family dinners, stay-at-home parenting, etc).

  57. nanoquimico says:

    I agree with the previous comments in that a deeper voice surely has benefits in conveying seriousness /  power.
    Another thing. Some of the alleged unpleasantness may come from digital processing rather than it sounding bad in real life. Under some circumstances creaky sounds reproduce poorly with digital recording which amplifies the artifacts in the high frequency range (note: in the fry the main pitch is low but the waveform itself has high freq components).

  58. SCAQTony says:

    Amy Goodman, of  “Democracy Now” has some serious “vocal fry” but I think she sounds great.

  59. EmaMontoya says:

    Pffft  I steep into “vocal fry” all the time. I was’t aware it was a “bad” thing. I hate my high, squeaky, voice so I usually take things down an octave so I don’t end up annoying myself. Plus I’m bilingual, so speaking in English somehow comes out in a higher pitch than speaking in my native language (Spanish). I don’t see the “vocal fry” dilemma, there are myriads of things more worrisome than the surging abundance of “vocal fry”.   

  60. h0n0rb says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28_0gXLKLbk Thatcher before and after. Didn’t Lauren Bacall lower her voice too?

  61. William says:

    Is Eliza Dushku an example of this?

  62. BadIdeaSociety says:

    How about Abigail Breslin she has this affect in bulk
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUo9kSn36L0

    • Thomas D says:

      “How about Abigail Breslin she has this affect in bulk”

      She’s definitely in permanent uptalk mode — and she’s got that whole vowel-shift thing going on, where “with” becomes “weth” — but I don’t hear an inordinate amount of vocal fry there.

  63. mak1982 says:

    Huh, I’m surprised by some of the comments on here. I’ve noticed this vocal habit before, and where I’ve generally noticed it is in middle aged women who are in majority male professions. I know I tend to lower my speaking voice unconsciously when I’m talking with men. When I was a kid I actually had a teacher tell me no one was going to take anything I said seriously if I spoke in such a high register, and I think that the thought of women’s voices as unpleasantly high and grating is internalized by many women, causing them to lower the register of their speaking voice to such an extent that when they lower the pitch for inflection they range into the fry range. I’m talking about the example where the lowest pitches edge into vocal fry, rather than younger women who speak only in vocal fry.

    tl;dr: Women speak lower than their natural register because of sexist views of women’s speech and women’s voices, not because they find vocal fry so awesome.

    • Erational says:

      “I’m talking about the example where the lowest pitches edge into vocal fry, rather than younger women who speak only in vocal fry.”

      Yes, but that’s rather different than the sort of vocal fry that so many people here find annoying. What you describe is an incidental consequence in sifting one’s speech to the lower end of one’s natural register; whereas what many young women do is use a sort of cultivated affect that makes them sound perpetually bored and disengaged, so it’s no wonder it rubs many people the wrong way.

  64. Marco Antonio Morales says:

    I love ‘vocal fry’ in female singers. From Divinyls to Bonnie Tyler, there’s something surly and sexy about it. It gives the voice an ‘edge’, and I’ve always been aware of it.

    Even my poor wife has to endure my advances when she’s sick and croaky, and has that sizzling, husky and sexy ‘morning voice’ (aka vocal-fry).

    • Thomas D says:

      This is another mislabeling, I think. Raspiness (e.g., Bonnie Tyler) and huskiness (e.g., Kathleen Turner) are not in themselves vocal fry.

      Vocal fry is something very specific and distinct.

  65. Stephen Hemingway says:

    “Vocal Fry” has nothing on the recent over-use of the word “so” to begin a sentence (usually in response to a question). Like vocal fry, it’s very popular on NPR.

  66. Ben Burger says:

    I’ve done this, heard others do it, and just never noticed it or even knew it was notable, or that it even had a name until now. Nobody has ever mentioned this before, I’m in Southern Ontario btw

  67. JohnnyLA says:

    It seems to be prevalent in high-tech dev start-up videos.

    http://vimeo.com/33429172

    They should just call him Mr. Vocal fry

    • Wow. Sculpted Goatee Guy has it down to science. He practically says everything in that range. I’m probably just old (get off my lawn), but it just sounds like ‘I don’t actually give a shit about what I’m saying’ tone.  I guess it’s just super informal/casual.

  68. I just noticed the young lady in this video* does an excellent example of this. For instance: at about 30 sec she says the phrase “about the 1930′s” entirely in the “creak”/growl-y range. Suddenly I hear this *everywhere*. Granted, I do live in SoCal. But it is kinda weird when you are paying specific attention to it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWAgt_YCNuw

    *TBH I have not watched beyond approx 1 minute, and probably do not endorse the content of this weird video. It is made by the “Center for Freedom and Prosperity” which some kind of tax lobbying foundation or something that sounds very creepy to me.

  69. dahlia says:

    huh, i do this sometimes, i didn’t know it was a “thing.”  but now that it’s been pointed out, i have noticed it more in the speech of young people.  where i might use it depending on the situation, in many younger folks it seems to be a permanent part of their voice.

    that said, i can’t say it particularly annoys me, i don’t give it much thought.  it’s WAY less annoying than the up-inflection others have already mentioned — that is SO IRRITATING.

  70. kaidaigoji says:

    I’m really surprised that BoingBoing doesn’t know how to read a scientific paper.  As language log posted, the paper in question doesn’t concern changes over time, or male/female differences.  The creaky voice phenomenon can be shown in speakers born fifty or more years ago, including an example from Mae West.

    It’s funny – if it’s a paper about neutrinos, I know boingboing will check it out before passing on the hyperbole, but with language apparently anything goes.

Leave a Reply