Vocal Fry: The Latest Vocal Pattern You Don’t Want to Copy

Vocal Fry: The Latest Vocal Pattern You Don’t Want to Copy

You likely have heard speakers using vocal fry everrrywherrrre.

Vocal fry is a tonal pattern recognized by low, elongated speech sounds typically occurring at the ends of sentences. The pattern is especially noticeable in young women.

In the last few years, many women have reached these new “lows” by fluttering their vocal cards to produce a drawn-out creak. Vocal fry has become the latest annoying phonological pattern since up talk—the habit of ending sentences with an upward tone, making a statement appear more like a question.

Up talk can make a speaker sound uncertain or nervous; vocal fry can make a speaker sound disinterested or even pretentious. Although speech psychologists have long labeled vocal fry a speech disorder, only recently has the style become a trend–or as some people maintain–an epidemic.

Spurred on by the Kardashians and others in the public spotlight, speakers copying this style typically seem unaware of how they sound to others.   And because young people often imitate speech patterns of celebrities, these imitators may even think they sound credible and confident.

In presentation courses at WD Communications, facilitators often talk about female speakers needing a deeper register for their voices. The male vocal cords typically stretch farther than those of females, resulting in men sounding more authoritative and confident and women often being perceived as weak or childlike.  A female speaker’s goal of lowering her pitch may have inadvertently encouraged the use of vocal fry.

The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and National Public Radio have all devoted space or airtime to the outbreak of vocal fry.  The medical editor on the Today show, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, allocated an entire episode to the topic.  With selected clips from television, movies, and music videos, she demonstrated the influence of pop culture over the past decades to the speech habits of young women.

As further evidence of vocal fry, Synderman cited research from CW Post College at Long Island University.  Here, speech pathologists noticed an increase in this speaking pattern of female undergrads and decided to test their hypothesis.  The researchers recorded 34 females reading from a passage and found that two-thirds spoke with vocal fry.  The results also showed no instances of vocal fry in male students who also participated in the study.  The Journal of Voice (“Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers,” May 2012) provides the complete study data.  http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0892-1997/PIIS…

Valley-girl speech, up talk, vocal fry . . . what’s next?  With young people especially, the need to be part of the “in crowd” is an attractive temptation.  Until the role models become more articulate and authentic, the next big vocal trend could be . . . interressssttinnnng.

-Ann Miller