Vocal fry is in the news again! Bethany Brookshire explains:
Bringing to mind celebrity voices like Kim Kardashian or Zooey Deschanel, vocal fry is a result of pushing the end of words and sentences into the lowest vocal register. When forcing the voice low, the vocal folds in the throat vibrate irregularly, allowing air to slip through. The result is a low, sizzling rattle underneath the tone. Recent studies have documented growing popularity of vocal fry among young women in the United States. But popular sizzle in women’s speech might be frying their job prospects, a new study reports. The findings suggest that people with this vocal affectation might want to hold the fry on the job market — and that people on the hiring side of the table might want to examine their biases.
I’m at a liberal arts college that is attended by at least 60% women, and I hear it all the time — and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. People have different voices, there are patterns that mark men and women, young and old, regions and races, and it’s no big deal — I actually find that the vocal fry becomes more common as people become less formal and more friendly, so it’s more a signature of a kind of knowing familiarity.
I thought that if it were off-putting in a job interview, as that study finds, it might be because that’s a situation with an expectation of greater formality, or as Language Log suggests, it’s because the recordings used in the study were a bit forced, and people trying to use an unnatural (to them) style of speaking can easily come across as insincere. But surely we don’t judge people by small variations in their speech, do we?
I forgot. People suck.
In an article on vocal fry on NPR, the commenters persuade me that there probably actually is considerable discrimination going on.
Ms. Eveleth admitted that she “sometimes” catches herself in her own high rising terminal (“upspeak”). How could she miss it, considering the number of people it must cause to void the contents of their stomachs?
More alarming than Eveleth’s contemptible defense of creaky speak was prominent on-air talent Rachel Martin’s claim that she’d never even heard of “vocal fry”. This is the state of broadcast journalism.
Upspeak bothers you? So much that you want to vomit? I suggest that the problem isn’t so much with the speaker as it is with people who want to so thoroughly police others’ speech patterns to the degree that they feel physically ill when they hear variants. I’m wondering how this commenter reacts to a Southern accent, which I find lovely, or to a Black American accent (which I also heard all the time when I worked at Temple University), or, horrors, the pitch accent of so many people in the upper Midwest.
Vocal fry is so subtle that most people don’t recognize it as a discrete entity, but apparently it is an indictment of all of journalism that a reporter should fail to deplore it with the vigor this commenter demands.
This one is even worse.
Also funny that Rose Eveleth doesn’t think vocal fry would interfere with job performance. I’d suggest that she consider how impossible it is to work with someone who habitually scratches out the final words of every statement. Vocal fryers don’t hear each other doing it, I guess. A community of unconscious croakers.
It’s not just women, either. You hear it in interviews with young male media hipsters. Guy Raz of the Ted Radio Hour has a curious sing-song vocal fry.
Awareness is the first step toward a cure. America needs mass speech therapy in the worst way. Up speak, vocal fry, and Valley Girl princess speech all constitute a national cultural emergency.
Edit: On second listening, Ms. Eveleth is not that bad a fryer, mostly lapsing into it in the egg story. And fortunately, Rachel Martin is completely fry-free, and a full vocalizer.
It’s a national cultural emergency! Speech therapy must be administered immediately to eradicate all variation from General American!
Jebus. I’ve been all over the country, and one of the things I like is that people have their own unique ways of speaking — ways that are distinctive and regional and act as indicators of identity. I’ve been to the United Kingdom and heard the range of voices there — I don’t know what that is they speak in Scotland, but it deserves a more appropriate label than “English” — and that makes the addition of a faint growl to the end of sentences trivial.
This isn’t about language at all. These vocal variations don’t affect communication in the slightest. This is all about language as a marker for class, race, and sex, and providing the excuse of subtle differences in speech as a way to publicly air prejudices. That guy who detests “Up speak, vocal fry, and Valley Girl princess speech” isn’t actually perturbed by how they speak — he has singled out a set of patterns associated with young women.
I also notice an omission. If we’re going to have mass speech therapy for the entire country, why is it to correct everyone to the General American standard? Flat and nasal isn’t pretty. If we’re going to do this and enforce uniformity, I’m going to insist that we use Shelby Foote as a model and get everyone to talk like that, with voices like soft music. Or maybe the casual, confident, laid-back style of Snoop Dogg. I also wouldn’t mind Sarah Silverman as a voice coach.
Anything but the boringly level voice of standard radio announcers everywhere.