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December 12, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

American Woman: Vocal fried. On the partial glottalization of speech in young English speaking American women.
posted by emilycardigan (181 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hey! It's that sound Jessamyn makes on the podcast when Josh talks about sci-fi nonsense!
posted by mathowie at 1:16 PM on December 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


In American English, anecdotal reports suggest that the behavior is much more common in women. (In British English, the pattern is the opposite.)

What is the opposite of this? Are British men deploying vocal fry, or are British women deploying whatever the opposite of vocal fry is?

That recording wasn't helpful- I want to hear examples of this phenomenon in situ, because I have no idea what it actually is.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:18 PM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Vocal fry, or glottalization, is a low, staccato vibration during speech, produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal cords.

I didn't think that's what "glottalization" means, but it seems that it can. I'm a substantial glottalic speaker, so it's interesting to find that the process of glottalization sometimes only goes half way.
posted by Jehan at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2011


I thought young American women were all going up at the end of each sentence? So everything sounds like a question? Am I so old that I missed the end of uptalk?
posted by artychoke at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


When the vocal fry, or pitch sinkers, wave meets the up-talkers, or pitch risers, wave, there will be an explosion of normal talking.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


A ver clear example is Rachel Zoe.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2011




Yeah, I wish there were examples within normal speech. I'm having a hard time imagining it.
posted by xorry at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2011


This article has been making the rounds over the last couple of days. I can't tell what they are talking about. Either the effect they are describing is so subtle I'm not actually picking up on it, or it has long been a normal speech characteristic for people in my world. If it's just that sort of gritty sound you get when you are using your lower pitches, well, I talk like that all the time...
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:20 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Folks: the woman in the sample is doing it at the end of each sentence, not just in the "AAAaaauhhhhh" at the end of the clip.
posted by theodolite at 1:21 PM on December 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Actually, I used to notice that on decorating shows a long time ago. There were often women talking about their $30,000 kitchen remodel in the most bored tone imaginable and they'd sound like that.
posted by artychoke at 1:21 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hear this all the time in my midwest, mid-20s burg. I can't imagine it in a song so I'll have to listen.

What is the opposite of this? Are British men deploying vocal fry, or are British women deploying whatever the opposite of vocal fry is?

American women do it, American men don't (as much). British men do it, British women don't (as much).
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:21 PM on December 12, 2011


A ver clear example is Rachel Zoe.

She sounds perfectly normal to me- maybe a little nasal and maybe getting that lovely hagged-out thing from smoking, but nothing I would mark as, well, anything analytically notable.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:24 PM on December 12, 2011


Here's a pretty good regular person example. She even starts talking about having 'vocal fry' around 1:27.
posted by emilycardigan at 1:25 PM on December 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's better than uptalking?
posted by rtha at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Folks: the woman in the sample is doing it at the end of each sentence, not just in the "AAAaaauhhhhh" at the end of the clip.

Ahhhhhhhhhh!
posted by xorry at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2011


Hush just stop. There's nothing you can do or say, baby.

I've always regarded that opening line from Britney's 2000 song Stronger as the quintessential example of her vocal fry.
posted by The Confessor at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2011


This Louis CK video has a whole bunch of people in the cafe exhibiting vocal fry.
posted by peacheater at 1:28 PM on December 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


You know what I was looking for? Another thing to track and be super-conscious of avoiding when I'm talking to other people. All that "how to tell if somebody's lying" stuff about eye positioning and mouth-touching and shit hasn't made me quite clownish enough yet.
posted by penduluum at 1:29 PM on December 12, 2011 [16 favorites]


Vocal fry is such an unfortunate trend, it really makes the speaker sound bored and disinterested and therefore boring and uninteresting. Even if it accomplished what is intended it would at best make the speaker sound haughty and affected.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:30 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Virgil Mastercard?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:31 PM on December 12, 2011


This pales in comparison to the vocal phenomenon affecting young men all across America, the dreaded "girlfriend voice", where your voice suddenly rises 2 octaves and gets saccarin sweet.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:32 PM on December 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


Abdelli-Beruh also wants to compare the prevalence of vocal fry on radio stations. For example, she says that the popular-music station on her teenage son's dial features creaky announcers, but she does not hear vocal fry on National Public Radio...

Um...has this "researcher" not heard Diane Rehm?
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 1:33 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Daria is an example.
posted by artychoke at 1:33 PM on December 12, 2011


This pales in comparison to the vocal phenomenon affecting young men all across America, the dreaded "girlfriend voice", where your voice suddenly rises 2 octaves and gets saccarin sweet.

I reserve that voice for my cat, thank you very much.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:34 PM on December 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


I don't have vocal fry. I have vocal SIZZLE.
posted by orme at 1:35 PM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, God. I just checked a course demo with an extended voiceover that I recorded last year, and I could hear vocal fry everywhere. Maybe it's because I was reading from a script instead of just winging it.
posted by maudlin at 1:36 PM on December 12, 2011


A trend among young American women to speak in a lower voice? Ok.

Maybe this is a reaction against up-talking.
posted by General Tonic at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can't listen at work: is this that think Zooey Deschanel has where her voice often sounds like it has two tones going on? If not, what the hell is that?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a high-voiced man, I really don't need more women speaking in low, gravelly voices; I get called "ma'am" on the phone enough as it is.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Huh. I'm an American Male and I do this. (Or else I just don't understand it at all, but I think I do.)
posted by Navelgazer at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2011


I can't listen to any clips at work, but I really, really hope it sounds like roaring, so I can start roaring at people and have it be acceptable.
posted by millipede at 1:39 PM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was watching the football game last night, and I realized Chris Collinsworth speaks entirely in vocal fry.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it the Kristen Wiig voice? (I loved this scene)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2011


This pales in comparison to the vocal phenomenon affecting young men all across America, the dreaded "girlfriend voice", where your voice suddenly rises 2 octaves and gets saccarin sweet.

I dislike when I do this, which is frustratingly often.
posted by Hicksu at 1:41 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like thii ii ii iis.
At the end of each of your sentencee ee ees.
Plus it's real fla aa aat.
Like a tuba played with insuffience blow force ce ce
Blaaaaaaaaah.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:42 PM on December 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's a truism in American sociolinguistics that young women are on the leading edge of most sound changes, and that it's fairly common for fashions in pronunciation to spread from the west coast eastward.

All that stuff in the original article about speech defects and vocal cord damage is so typical of any writing about phonological change in the mass media -- panic about decay and damage. It's just creaky voice! It's not harmful and it doesn't mean anything. Plenty of languages do it -- in particular, creaky voice at the end of sentences is a strong feature of old-fashioned posh British "received pronunciation."

(I saw a video clip once where they were talking to a 13-year-old boy at Eton school in 1950, and the kid's voice sounded like an 80-year-old Tory bank executive named Viscount Featherstonehaugh Throatwobbler-Mangrove. All that creaky voice caused serious cognitive dissonance.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


LEAVE BRITNEY ALOO oo oo one.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Even if it accomplished what is intended

That's the piece that I'm interested in - while the article says that singers use it as a stylistic tool and a way to reach lower notes, but it seems they didn't try to identify why young women are using it in speech. For instance, in the Daria and Kristen Wiig clips, I hear it, but only occasionally, so it appears to be a stylistic choice. But in emilycardigan's link, the speaker uses it nearly constantly, and seemingly unconsciously.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2011


Take a listen to Jill Abramson, editor-in-chief of the New York Times.
posted by mhum at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2011 [24 favorites]


Blame Brit for pitch shift!

There needs to be an International Variety-Style Headlines Day when everything from the New York Times to the Podunk Crier-Herald-Journal-Marketeer participate.
posted by griphus at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep. Well, I think so. Listen to her say "hours" and "time at work" here. I'm pretty sure this is what's being talked about. Her sister (whose name I can't remember) from that show "Bones" does this a lot, too
posted by bunglin jones at 1:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a prof, I've definitely heard this amongst my students -- I associate it with young North American women, usually white, usually middle/upper-middle class, often but not exclusively with some accompanying level of social anxiety.
posted by modernnomad at 1:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prediction: in 18 months, vocal fry will be replaced by flat/jumping cadences imitating extreme AutoTune, as in the choruses of pop songs.
posted by acb at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dammit - I meant my "yep" in reply to the question about Zooey Deschanel.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2011


Uhoh...I do this *consistently*, and I'm hardly a young woman anymore... I didn't even realize it had a name.

And I don't think I can stop.
posted by Kronur at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does Sarah Vowell do this? She does something, for sure.
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


IS IT VOCAL FRY?

OR WHY NOT ZOIDBERG?

sorry, I thought this was the memes thread
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [27 favorites]


Sarah Vowell does nasal fry.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's fairly common for fashions in pronunciation to spread from the west coast eastward.

oh, of course. It's only news now because it's news to New Yorkers.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:53 PM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also known as "pilot over the loudspeaker from the cockpit voice"?
posted by Splunge at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


You've seen The King's Speech! You've salivated over The Iron Lady! But this year Hollywood goes big with ALL THE AMERICAN GIRLS.

It's the modern day but something is wrong. All of the American girls are speaking with vocal fry! It's terribly embarrassing! Boys don't like it! Can Geoffrey Rush teach All The American Girls how to speak properly before they have to make a speech and prove how smart and articulate they are? Find out this Thanksgiving with ALL THE AMERICAN GIRLS>
posted by The Whelk at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


All that stuff in the original article about speech defects and vocal cord damage is so typical of any writing about phonological change in the mass media -- panic about decay and damage. It's just creaky voice! It's not harmful and it doesn't mean anything. Plenty of languages do it -- in particular, creaky voice at the end of sentences is a strong feature of old-fashioned posh British "received pronunciation."

Are creaky voices killing your kid's vox box? Are your daughters doomed to a life of scarred vocal chords and grandma-like quavers? More at 11!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:56 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Prediction: in 18 months, vocal fry will be replaced by flat/jumping cadences imitating extreme AutoTune, as in the choruses of pop songs.

Just had this exact conversation with friends recently, and we decided it would be funny because then everyone would sound like GLaDOS.
posted by heatvision at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unsubstantiated conjecture: I wonder if the switch from up-talking to vocal fry and other stategies of deepening the voice have anything to do with women gaining more cultural and personal capital/authority? Like, if women sound less like girls they may be more liekly to be 'taken seriously.'

Related anecdote: An actor pal of mine was instructed by her vocal coach to stop faking a cheery higher pitch 'feminine' voice all the time, and my pal was shocked. She had no idea she was generally speaking in what was for her an natural register.
After working to reset her everyday speaking pitch, she noticed she suffered a lot less condescension from strangers and telemarketers.
posted by emilycardigan at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


I associate it with women who have moved out of their hometown and are trying to be sophisticated and mature. I loathe it.

I was on a conference call a couple of months ago with a woman who did it and I had to take the phone away from my ear and just watch the powerpoint because it annoyed me so much.
posted by winna at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think I talk like this, but I have really bad allergies. Aren't allergy rates really high right now? Maybe everybody is just congested.
posted by mmmbacon at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


OR WHY NOT ZOIDBERG ZOIDBERG, WHY NOT?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oops. Should read: 'an unnatural register.'
posted by emilycardigan at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2011


I started talking like this in high school. I'm in my 30s now, and I'm from the upper midwest. The girls there sounded, by and large, like very very nasal Valley Girls. I noticed that I sounded quite a lot like my aunt, who may just be the original nasal Valley Girl. People often had a difficult time understanding me, especially on the phone. I decided that everything was not a question, and that I didn't want to be a squeaky voiced nose talker anymore. (Yeah, I know that you can still be nasal in fry, but it's a helluva lot harder.)

So I started speaking in a lower register. It's better. Didn't have any notion that I was avant garde.
posted by Leta at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, I never noticed that this was a thing... I'm still not sure it qualifies as a problem. At least not on the scale of, say, Orange and Teal.
posted by Crane Shot at 2:03 PM on December 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, pretty sure I get what this is now. For me (probably due mostly to Daria and Sarah Vowell) I think of this as the "geek girl" voice. Most of my female friends do this. I guess for men it's closer to "anchorman" voice.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:03 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I use this as part of my regular speech, to express exasperation. "I am so sick of this da(aaa)y". I'm a young North American (Canadian) woman with an accent that is unique to my Aspergers riddled family and I do have social anxiety, but I use deer-in-the-headlights expressions for my anxiety, not vocal tics.
posted by Phalene at 2:04 PM on December 12, 2011


The all-time Canadian queen of vocal fry is Elanor Wachtel. It's been annoying me for years, and now I know what to call it. My woman loves it, but she doesn't do it herself.
posted by klanawa at 2:05 PM on December 12, 2011


I practice Newsreader voice every morning when reading off the headlines to the SO in bed, taking slightly less time to speak and speaking from your abdomen causes more and more fry to creep into my voice until it sounds like The Morning News with Gay Tom Waits.
posted by The Whelk at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh hooray, another thing to make me even more self-conscious!
posted by elsietheeel at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's be clear - this voice isn't a bad thing. (At least it isn't to me. I love the sound of this. I guess some people don't like it though. To each their own.)
posted by Navelgazer at 2:09 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always thought of this as "bulimia voice". Bulimics speak this way like this because they've fried their vocal chords with stomach acid. Next time you hear someone with vocal fry, check for swollen parotid glands too.

Unfortunately, it's a lot more common than you'd think.
posted by aquafortis at 2:11 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]




My mate does this. Not the end of the world, and I don't think it's a conscious thing, but it's not my favorite thing. I suspect my talking all the time at 120db is more annoying.
posted by maxwelton at 2:19 PM on December 12, 2011


This is really interesting to me. Now that I think about it, most of my friends do it. I wonder if it's associated with the sort of sarcastic, self-deprecating kind of speech. Geeky, literate, self-aware (re: Sarah Vowell, Zooey Deschanel, Daria).

Especially if the woman speaking is on camera or being singled out in some way. Smart-kid-in-class, "I know what I'm talking about but don't take me too seriously." Almost like a vocal "slouching".
posted by book 'em dano at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


But definitely unconsciously done.
posted by book 'em dano at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2011


Is there a support group for people who are unable to detect vocal fry no matter how many tedious samples they listen to?
posted by Segundus at 2:23 PM on December 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yeah, this is definitely at least in part a case of western (particularly Pacific Northwest) accents being noticed by people on the east coast. See this article from 2005: Contrary to belief, local linguists say Northwest has distinctive dialect
posted by OverlappingElvis at 2:24 PM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I love the extremely calculated use of vocal fry to sow doubt or uncertainty in product advertisements, political ads, and even phone directory services. Usually it's a male speaker with a deep voice, who speaks unnaturally clearly except for that tiny moment of humanizing hesitation. I find it deliberate and unsettling, like a robot programmed to smile.

"You might have heard that Lipitor now has a generic version. Bu-u-ut if you take it, your liver will almost certainly disintegrate, and Pfizer cares too much to let that happen."

"Sorry, I-i-i-i didn't understand your response. You can say things like 'pay bills'. 'apply for a loan'. 'check my balance.'..."

As a guy who records a lot of voiceover, I appreciate the effort that must have gone into getting the perfect take, with precisely 150 milliseconds of fry for maximum perceived empathy in focus-group testing.
posted by jake at 2:24 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


The idea that this would be damaging to the vocal chords is 180 degrees wrong. Opera singers actually do this as a warm up. It centres the voice and opens the throat. If you're speaking this way, then you're actually resting your vocal chords and doing your voice a lot of good.
posted by Dreadnought at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have noticed this for a while and thought it was the new version of the Valley Girl/Marina Girl (San Francisco reference) voice.
posted by twsf at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2011


The language log article, linked above, does a much better job touching upon the social meaning of creaky voice. (Sorry, I prefer the term creaky voice instead of vocal fry.)

Creaky voice has been around forever, and in some languages (Zapotec, for example), creaky voice is phonemic. Meaning, a word containing let's say a vowel with creaky voice might have a different meaning than the exact same word but with the vowel pronounced without the creaky voice. That is to say, the "vocal fry" is an entirely different sound like the way the [p] in 'pat' is different from the [b] in 'bat'.

In languages where the creaky voice is NOT a phonemic contrast, the use of the feature can become a stylistic resource, conveying different things to different people depending on how that feature gets recognized over time within the group (how it gets enregistered). It's similar to how 'dude' can mean different things depending on whether or not you say it with rising intonation, a fronted vowel, creaky voice, etc...or some combo of all these. Or how eye-raq vs. ih-rock can tell you different things about the socio-political persuasion or geographic background of the person who says it (think Bush vs. Obama). These things come to have social meaning, and then get used/changed/played with as such. Similar to how we take memes and riff on them...No No No Cat as autotune vs. Amy Winehouse Rehab vs. any other of the million variations.

Creaky voice is *just now* starting to reach the level of conscious awareness in speakers (becoming enregistered), and therefore becoming associated with many different things (becoming indexical of) – the persons who use it, the ways it's being used, the things it can mean. No one resource is relegated to one social meaning, even within same language speakers or within social groups. Which is why there are differences in the social meaning of creaky voice across the pond (US vs. UK), as well as within on each side. It's the same way that hyper-articulating your t's at the ends of words can become associated with many things, such as valley girls, gay men, Jewish people, nerd girls and many others. Or how rising intonation (uptalk) isn't *just* a valley girl thing, even though that is the most socially marked use of it these days. If you really start to listen, you'll hear uptalk and creaky voice and hyper-articulated t's everywhere, used in so many different ways, stylistically reappropriated for the context. It's so po-mo, I love it.

Really wish that the article had a sociolinguistic bent to it, 'cause that's where the fun is with this feature.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:27 PM on December 12, 2011 [49 favorites]


It's as if everyone suddenly decided to start talking like William F. Buckley.

But if you really want to blame someone, blame Mae West and Bette Davis for creating the idea that smoky voice = sexy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:27 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or blame everyone else for labeling it as such.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2011


Disappointed that this wasn't a post about Billy West.
posted by not_on_display at 2:31 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I have a rather laid-back coworker who speaks ENTIRELY in fry. I find that when talking to him, my ape mimicry circuits tend to activate, and I start speaking in fry too. It ends up sounding like two geiger counters chattering back and forth. I'm going to try to lure in a third person in next time, and see if they also fall into it.
posted by jake at 2:33 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


I never really noticed vocal fry until this article popped onto the internets. It's like bacon though, it makes nearly everything better.
posted by nutate at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2011


well, shit, I'm 43 and I've done this for years. But then, I have some weird quality of my natural vocal register that causes voicemail programs to abruptly cut off when I'm leaving a message my theory is that one of the common vowel sounds in my normal vocal register perfectly replicates the sound of the "star" key, which typically means "cancel/back" and thus I've had to deliberately lower my pitch in order to not be constantly annoyed in the workplace.

so, do I get a cookie or what?
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2011


Hey! It's that sound Jessamyn makes on the podcast when Josh talks about sci-fi nonsense!

And now I subscribe to the podcast.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:43 PM on December 12, 2011


"I find that when talking to him, my ape mimicry circuits tend to activate, and I start speaking in fry too. It ends up sounding like two geiger counters chattering back and forth. I'm going to try to lure in a third person in next time, and see if they also fall into it."

Phonetic accommodation in action! It's one of those things we can't help doing...some people are better at it than others, some people prefer to do it more than others. It's one of those ways that we subtly let people know that we're getting along (or not getting along, if we're diverging) without having explicitly say so. It's also one of the mechanisms by which we pick up accents, i.e. start to sound like the people around us. It also helps us be understood. Keeps things flowing smoothly. We don't always want to be distracted by the delivery of the content, so accommodating can reduce the noise in the signal by normalizing things between speakers. It has many other functions too, though.

You hear this with young people all the time. Listen to them on the bus, it's funny...one starts saying "like" or "y'know" or starts using a certain intonation contour and then holy hell, they're all doing it.

Sometimes when I'm bored at parties I'll use a certain non-obvious-but-descriptive word like "awesome" or "yeah" in my speech and then see if it gets picked up by the other speakers in the next few turns of talk. You can prime people for this stuff and it's great. It's my own private linguistic joke, like that Barenaked Ladies song "I could hide out under there..."
posted by iamkimiam at 2:46 PM on December 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


I AM DOING A THING!! And had no idea. I just thought it was because of my thyroid problem.
posted by sageleaf at 2:46 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's as if everyone suddenly decided to start talking like William F. Buckley.

Uhh, my feelings on this subject were fairly neutral until you mentioned this.
(swell debate in the link, if you like Chomsky)
posted by ovvl at 2:46 PM on December 12, 2011


Hah, when I un-muted my speakers to hear the sample, I didn't realize that Tom Waits' Come On Up To The House was playing on iTunes & I thought for a sec that it was the sample. Vocal Fry indeed.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Amy Goodman does this all the time on Democracy Now, and it drives me a little crazy because she has a rather high-pitched, light voice capable of great agility she uses when she is the interviewee rather than the interviewer, and which I find much more appealing-- and take more seriously.

I pitch my own voice higher than its natural register, because I got tired of everybody on the bus turning around to look at me when I opened my mouth, and strangers on the phone telling me I should be a radio announcer.

The last straw was my own dear partner saying my ordinary speaking voice had a tendency to spark just a little bit of involuntary fear in her.

I find it interesting that Israeli politicians I hear tend to sound like Henry Kissinger, and Arab politicians just a shade like Tiny Tim.
posted by jamjam at 2:49 PM on December 12, 2011


I do this sometimes. I try not to, because I'm a singer, and it's tiring. I do it because my natural voice is quite high, but speaking in that high register makes me sound like a little girl and makes people not take me seriously, so I consciously dropped my speaking pitch by about half to three quarters of an octave when I was a teenager. But then in order to get enough vocal variability to avoid sounding like I'm repressing seething, cynical range, I need to dip down into the very bottom of my range. I can do that by consciously lowering into my chest resonance, but then I sound like a phone sex worker with all that sexy, swashbuckling boom in my voice. So I keep it in my throat, and hey presto -- vocal fry.
posted by KathrynT at 2:50 PM on December 12, 2011


Ellen Feiss? Is she doing that?
posted by Edogy at 2:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if you really want to blame someone, blame Mae West and Bette Davis for creating the idea that smoky voice = sexy.

I contend that both were imitating the inimitable Tallulah Bankhead.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:56 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hah, when I un-muted my speakers to hear the sample, I didn't realize that Tom Waits' Come On Up To The House was playing on iTunes & I thought for a sec that it was the sample.

Don't feel bad. When I saw saw "American Woman: Vocal fried" I thought the article was going to be about The Guess Who song and maybe about how their singer had wrecked his larynx or something.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:57 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hello, all you young reporters on NPR - are you listening?
posted by DandyRandy at 2:57 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah yep, it is the Ronzoni Bechamel Zooey Deschanel thing. I likes it.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Good news, everyone!
posted by dirigibleman at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2011


Not as horrific as so many Americans talking through their noses these days. When you can actually hear the clicking of phlegmy membranes, it's gone too goddamned far.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:09 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is just another function of the new "deep and smart is hip" thing that's been around for a while.
The idea here, though, is not to be deep and smart only to project the illusion of depth and intelligence. So, rather than study something or, I don't know, self-reflect, what you do is buy some thick-framed glasses (lenses optional), dye your hair dark, read exactly one science-fiction novel and two books by Malcolm Gladwell, and now, apparently, and probably in a small part thanks to Zooey Nothing-I've-Ever-Done-Has-Been-Sincere Deschanel, pitch your voice lower so that you seem very serious.
see also sweater vests, unnecessary ties, NPR podcasts
posted by mikoroshi at 3:13 PM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


mikoroshi's not on board.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Since I can't listen to the samples at work, I'll continue to imagine that vocal fry is exactly like the pig scream in the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
posted by benzenedream at 3:20 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect I do this, but just because I naturally have a low voice and I often have a sore throat. Also I wear glasses and have brown hair.

It doesn't bother me, and in fact I sort of like a raspy voice on a woman. I save my hatred for the "I am smiling while I talk so I sound cheery!" voices I hear on local radio (and which only women do, as far as I've noticed).
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:25 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter, i'm disappointed in you. Not one joke about "freedom fry". ;)
posted by usagizero at 3:30 PM on December 12, 2011


Now I have a name for the problem I've been dealing with for years...

Whenever I'm nervous or uncertain, I start getting vocal fry. And of course, unlike those who do it on purpose, mine renders it so that no one can actually hear what I'm saying (for a female, my voice is already naturally low), resulting in me having to repeat myself incessantly. It generally goes away when I speak other languages, however, and I don't quite understand why.
posted by movicont at 3:32 PM on December 12, 2011



see also sweater vests, unnecessary ties,



I just wanted to look like Rupert Giles okay?
posted by The Whelk at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I saw saw "American Woman: Vocal fried" I thought the article was going to be about The Guess Who song.

American Woman, Brain Fry. [nsfw] [greatestcoverever]
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:37 PM on December 12, 2011


My wife does this and it drives me nuts. (Which of course might be why she does it...) Neat to know it has a real name; I've always just told her to stop creaking.
posted by Forktine at 3:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


YOU HEARD IT! YOU CAN'T UNHEAR IT!
posted by utsutsu at 3:55 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad I know what to call this now. As for "thing coming from the West to the East," I worked in a high school in Charlottesville, VA from 1997-2001, and this was a pretty common thing among younger female teachers there, and the automated movie listings line voice sort of did it. Enough so that when I hear it now, ten years later, and want to describe someone's voice to my wife, I fry the phrase "she does that <fry>C-ville thing</fry>?" and my wife responds with "You mean, <fry>What Dreams May Come</fry>?" and I fry back "<fry>Mulan</fry>"
posted by mph at 4:01 PM on December 12, 2011


You spelled Glenn Fry wrong.

Uu u u belo o o o ng to the ni i i ght... U u u belo o ong to the ci i i ity

posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:02 PM on December 12, 2011


Its a sign of my ongoing Community madness that I keep seeing this headline a "Blame Brita" and going YES SHE DOES THAT SHIT OFTEN right? Ri i i ight?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:04 PM on December 12, 2011


Can't listen at work: is this that think Zooey Deschanel has where her voice often sounds like it has two tones going on? If not, what the hell is that?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:37 PM on December 12


When I hear her speak, I want to tell her to clear her throat or get her tonsils removed. Like nails on a chalkboard. But that isn't vocal fry, which is slowing the airflow down so your vocal cords croak instead of vibrate. Vocal fry is also slightly different from the lady at the gas station who smokes four packs of Newports a day- her vocal cords are working, they are just shot. When you can, listen to this, linked above, for a perfect example. You hear it first when she says "very meaningful to me.e.e.e."
posted by gjc at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh my gosh. I totally do this.

I am an arty, sensitive, mildly neurotic creative professional, and if left to myself I would just go work on my art in a remote hermitage, but unfortunately periodically I have to go try to sell money people on something. I am pretty terrible at the pitch, sweaty and awkward, my breath seizes up and I start to talk in the top third of my range.

Over time I have developed some (not necessarily great) coping mechanisms, and once when I was talking to a casting professional to get ideas for being less terrible at this, she pointed out that I was speaking in a weird way, from the lowest chunk of my register.

So... I think I, at least, lower the pitch of my voice when I am anxious and trying to seem authoritative instead of girlish and nervous. (I am very aware of the perceived link between masculinity and authority. Maybe in my subconscious that all comes together and I lower my voice?)

Ughghhhhhh.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:07 PM on December 12, 2011


So Britney Spears, with -- at extremes -- a side of the girl from Ju-on/The Grudge.

At first I thought this was the epiglottal stop which makes The Wire season 4 theme so fricking annoying... When you walk, through the garden -- watch your ba- well I beg your pardon, walk the straight and narrow tra- (GRARRRR)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2011


I contend that both were imitating the inimitable Tallulah Bankhead.

The perfect antidote for William F. Buckley.
posted by ovvl at 4:14 PM on December 12, 2011


Huh. I guess I do this, although I'm almost 40 and have no interest whatsoever in sounded sophisticated. I think I do it because I don't talk much, and I don't like talking, and it takes so much damn work just to make it to the end of the sentence that I'm exhausted by the time I get there.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:17 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dammit, this is yet another thing for me to point out on television, earning me eye-rolling from my wife, like auto-tuning, the Wilhelm scream, and what year that cellphone came out in.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:19 PM on December 12, 2011


When I'm speaking to a group, my options are either sounding like I'm about to cry, or doing this at the end of my sentence.
posted by sarae at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2011


I think I do it because I don't talk much, and I don't like talking, and it takes so much damn work just to make it to the end of the sentence that I'm exhausted by the

FTFY.
posted by tigrefacile at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was a discussion on this on Reddit a day or two ago and contributors came in with many examples of male use of vocal fry to the extent that I was convinced that labeling this as a female phenomenon is way off base. Personally, as a way of using tone to convey meaning, I find it an enriching use of language though I am not a practitioner of this mode of speech.

Elective or acquired accents are fascinating. I think here of such "communication styles" as the mid-century transAtlantic accent (think Katharine Hepburn) or the mode of speaking, natural or employed as a type of code-speak signal, that we think of as stereotypically "gay male." (I'm a gay female and I'm certain that I, too, have adopted some relevant language markers. I also come from a region and family with a distinctive accent that I do not evidence.) What accents do we choose and which choose us?
posted by Morrigan at 4:33 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is that what IPA notation calls creaky voice? When I was in grad school, it was said by sociolinguists that this was used as a way to hedge challenges in speech. In other words, I state that the Earth is flat, and instead of saying I'm dumb you give me a long, nice explanation, that never really drives home your point. I was never sure I bought it which is why my explanation here is kind of weak.

More importantly, at the time it was said, by speakers of English, to be entirely unconscious. In other words, if it conveys any meaning, the speaker isn't aware of it.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 4:35 PM on December 12, 2011


Icelanders do this all the time, both male and female (although it's mostly male), only they employ it as a noise you make when you're trying to find the words to continue your sentence but you don't want to stop making noises with your mouth. It's the "ö" sound (sounds like "uh", only a bit further back in the mouth). A sample sentence might be something like "Well, the thing you have to understand about the European Union is ööööööööö we are bound by treaty to follow their laws anyway so ööööööööööööööööööööööööö I don't think that ööö withdrawing from accession talks would be a good idea."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always found, speaking while sober to more than three people, that creaky voice evidences itself when I'm halfway through saying something and I realise that I've lost faith in my point. In that sense it serves as audible version of Hemingway's built-in bullshit detector.
posted by tigrefacile at 4:41 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I talk like this pretty much constantly...but then I had a bad tracheotomy experience so I think it has more to do with my damaged vocal cords than any speech pattern thing.
posted by clavier at 4:59 PM on December 12, 2011


Perhaps unsurprisingly Stephen Fry is a master of this (though he seems to have only picked it up recently)
posted by Lanark at 5:02 PM on December 12, 2011


Well, I have a 21 year old daughter, and we've been through mumbling, uptalk and now, yes, I guess it's got a name, vocal fry. We saw Sarah Silverman recently and she's a vocal fry, like, expert. I recognized it immediately, leaned in to my kid and said, Ah, she speaks your language.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2011


Surprised nobody's mentioned Bill Clinton yet.
posted by dhartung at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Once I understood what this FPP was talking about, all I could think of was The Gruuuuuuuudge (noise starts 23 secs in)
posted by KHAAAN! at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2011


And you can really here it clearly in this YouTube link when the young woman says 'feedback' and 'speech'--right about here.
posted by yellowcandy at 5:34 PM on December 12, 2011


Dammit, this is yet another thing for me to point out on television, earning me eye-rolling from my wife, like auto-tuning, the Wilhelm scream, and what year that cellphone came out in.

My favorite is "That Clipboard Is Covering Up The Actress' Baby Bump."
posted by sonika at 5:35 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ouch. 'hear' of course. Geez.
posted by yellowcandy at 5:36 PM on December 12, 2011


Surprised nobody's mentioned Bill Clinton yet.

Or if you're really old, how about Henry Kissinger.
posted by Trochanter at 5:42 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I absolutely do this (and when I've been conscious of doing so I've tended to think of it as sounding "serious" as opposed to uptalking and sounding frivolous) but I've never really considered it as a shared speech pattern until now. Really interesting post.
posted by jokeefe at 5:47 PM on December 12, 2011


I've noticed in documentaries from the sixties that women had a lot less vocal fry back then, at least in the middle and upper classes. I hear it in some actresses' voices on Mad Men and it immediately takes me out of the "realism" of the scene. Among the regular cast, Alison Brie (Trudy) does the best at avoiding it.
posted by gubo at 6:18 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


So is this essentially the same as stød in Danish?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2011


I think vocal fry and quacktalking are related and are two aspects of the same phenomenon. The result to me is that a whole generation of American women sound like 12 year-old mall rats, even if they have Ph.D.s in nuclear physics.

My not so serious and not so nice hypothesis is that the enourmous pressure to look, feel and sound young caused this involuntary glottalization which caused the larynx to contract, so to replicate how ten year-olds talk - that to me is the key, it isn't so much glottalization as a tensing and a shortening of the voicebox to sound prepubescent.

For example Sarah Vowell is a quacktalker as well as a vocal fryer heard here at about 0:56, when she says "The only thing I'm good at, yeah."

Another example is Daliah Lithwick ("So I think you vairy much" right at the beginning of this clip) quacktalking on you tube. Admittedly she doesn't have any vocal fry.

This is become standard American English, but what is interesting to me is it is strongly gendered, few men quacktalk, perhaps because it is harder to constrict the larynx. A few people have noticed a phenomenon where men have high pitched girl voices, perhaps the same thing going on, because before puberty, well boys and girls sound the same.
posted by xetere at 6:46 PM on December 12, 2011


Sorry should've finished my point. Not to take gratuitous slaps at Sarah Vowell and Dalia Lithwick, both of whom I read and who are immensely talented and bright, but rather, I find it interesting how "young" both of them sound, and not young like in under 50, but rather young as in still in junior high school.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, and the person who mentioned mad men was spot on. Adult women just didn't have that vocal quality back then, or even when I was a child, no matter what accent was spoken. Girls did though.

Back in my day, women sounded like women and men sounded like men, and, and get off my lawn!!!!


Damned kids.
posted by xetere at 6:53 PM on December 12, 2011


Extreme example of vocal fry, via Family Guy.
posted by dhens at 7:03 PM on December 12, 2011


Anything's better than goddamn Little Princess voices.
posted by odinsdream at 7:30 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought this was just my voice (and lots of women's voices). I didn't realize it was a learned thing. It's true that the what-I-used-to-think-of-as-gravel is a thing about my voice that I hate, but it feels like the only way I can get it loud enough to be heard at all. If I talk in my natural high, light voice I get talked over by every male at the table.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:32 PM on December 12, 2011


Another Pronounced Example
posted by Navelgazer at 7:43 PM on December 12, 2011


> Surprised nobody's mentioned Bill Clinton yet

He had (dunno if he still does) all sorts of medical issues that caused his raspy voice.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:47 PM on December 12, 2011


Extreme example of vocal fry, via Family Guy.

I finally get it!! I don't know what this has to do with Zooey, or Mad Men, or the girl in public speaking class, or the other examples though.
posted by sweetkid at 7:49 PM on December 12, 2011


I thought this was just my voice (and lots of women's voices). I didn't realize it was a learned thing. It's true that the what-I-used-to-think-of-as-gravel is a thing about my voice that I hate, but it feels like the only way I can get it loud enough to be heard at all. If I talk in my natural high, light voice I get talked over by every male at the table.


Yes! I'm really soft-spoken, and this seems like it's what happens when I try to speak audibly. I inevitably get sort of tired by the end of the sentence and my voice kind of crackles.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:54 PM on December 12, 2011


Suddenly paying attention to this makes watching Archer really distracting (in the male voices.)
posted by Navelgazer at 7:57 PM on December 12, 2011


I've never noticed this before, but now that I have, I'm quite sure it's going to annoy me.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:00 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll stop speaking in the lowest available register when I can get taken seriously in another way.

Actually, I probably won't; I've been speaking at a low pitch when discussing serious subjects since at least age 20, presumably long before (that's when I first noticed myself lowering pitch, not always to the point of fry but sometimes, while taping a meeting of myself and other female physicists for a linguistics class- this is c. 10 years ago). I expect I'm pretty unlikely to change this behavior regardless of the incentives.

To those of you who think it makes a woman sound stupid: well, would you rather I uptalk? Or speak in as high pitched a voice as I can? (Note that it's possible you'd consider my natural register to be high pitched; I've got no idea, really, because when I'm conscious of my pitch it's lowered).

Listening to all of these fry-ers makes me feel like I've found my kind. They're vocally signalling- signalling that they'd like you to take them seriously. Could someone explain to me why that's a bad thing?
posted by nat at 8:03 PM on December 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Aw dammit I totally do this thing. At least now I know what it's called, not just "that weird sarcastic voice thing I do aaaallll the tiiiiiimeghghhgh." How do you make it stop?
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is vocal fry? When Arnold's mask in Total Recall has a breakdown. That's vocal fry.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:28 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


sweetkid, glad I could help! I think what the other examples are pointing out is that (American) women are tending to talk near the lower end of their range, giving a gravelly/crackling quality to their speech.
posted by dhens at 8:46 PM on December 12, 2011


nat: it's not a bad thing. There is no need for you to stop it or get self-conscious about it. People are just starting to notice it as a "thing" now, so there will be some talk about it for a hot minute or so.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:59 PM on December 12, 2011


I hear it in some actresses' voices on Mad Men and it immediately takes me out of the "realism" of the scene. Among the regular cast, Alison Brie (Trudy) does the best at avoiding it.

When I was in acting school we learned very early on to avoid vocal fry at all costs - it was a major effort of our speech and vocal teachers. You can't project if you're closing your throat off and talking like this, and you can't "fry" if you have a lot of air moving out of your lungs.

I never knew this name for it til yesterday, but godDAMN I'm glad to have a real reason behind why I can't listen to This American Life anymore. (Ladies - keep the air flowing! Don't die at the end of every sentenceeeeuuuggghhhhh.....)
posted by tristeza at 9:12 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: read the end of tristeza's comment. I have no intention of getting self concious about my speech habits, but there this does require some concentration in the face of such comments.

tristeza: please think about what you are saying here. First off, you're saying "Ladies". You've already pissed me off. But that's not universal.

What is a little more universal is your insinuation that anyone who has this speech pattern isn't worth listening to. Do you dismiss people who uptalk? or who have a southern drawl?

(And tristeza, sorry to call you out, it seems this attitude is pretty prevalent in this thread, but I found it easier to call out a specific example.)
posted by nat at 9:44 PM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


To me it sounds like the speaker is just barely managing to move enough air through their vocal cords to make a sound. I want to tell them to sit up straight and talk from their diaphragm.

It's interesting to hear that people use it to signal seriousness; I'm more likely to interpret it as lack of conviction.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:57 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is this? I once heard a NPR show about this phenomena--it is basically the same thing as Tuvan throat singing.

The guy on NPR claimed that it is partially responsible for Bill Clinton getting elected President.

I can't find the NPR show, but I found this very technical description of what's going on in the throat.
posted by eye of newt at 10:13 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


it is basically the same thing as Tuvan throat singing.

Twenty seconds ago this kicked in on itunes, prompting me to re-enter this thread equipped with a wicked barb about Zoey Deschanel probably being a better throat-singer than actress. But it's useless now.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:16 PM on December 12, 2011


What is a little more universal is your insinuation that anyone who has this speech pattern isn't worth listening to

This isn't the first time that young women have been the target of uninformed linguistic prejudice and won't be the last. So yeah - pretty universal.

It's depressing that even MetaFilter, a site where I used to come for informed, fair discussion of interesting topics, has fallen into the pit of dismissive pop-psych analysis of young women who are associated with this phonation type.

Seriously, the state of linguistic knowledge among the general population is depressing.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


The normal way to say "uh" is this way. "um" too. Pot voice could also be responsible for the vocal fry uprising.
posted by BurnChao at 12:49 AM on December 13, 2011


Finally, death metal leaves its subtle mark on mainstream culture!
posted by vanar sena at 1:34 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, that voice! I call that one my Waking Up In The Morning, Staring At The Ceiling With My Mouth Hanging Stupidly Open, Making The Sound Of A Car Going Through Its Gears voice.

Also, The Ol' Death Rattle.
posted by Spatch at 3:42 AM on December 13, 2011


I talk like this a lot, but for me it feels more to do with reducing the volume of my voice without sounding breathy, rather than reducing the pitch. Especially when I'm talking to someone in an office and I don't want to disturb other people, but I don't want to be whispering at the person.
posted by lucidium at 4:09 AM on December 13, 2011


Anything's better than goddamn Little Princess voices.

This. In my previous job, there was a woman who always seemed to be in reality-show-contestant attention-seeking mode. For some reason, she could never say anything without either using a cutesy-pie baby-talk voice or a I'm-so-zany demented shriek, or a combination of both, as if always needing to make sure nobody forgot how unique and kooky her personality was. She talked to herself loudly too.
posted by acb at 4:27 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh man. For a lot of the thread I just couldn't grok what this is, because it sounds totally normal to me. I do it, and I think most women I know (and some of the men) do it. It didn't strike me at all as a thing. Then after some of the extreme examples were posted (like the NYT editor) I heard it, and understood it, and I'll never be able to unhear it again.

I definitely agree in many cases it's a lowering of pitch to seem more serious / be taken more seriously. My natural pitch is quite high and it's easier to say certain things when you don't sound like a little girl, and do a 'Daria voice' instead. It isn't really conscious, but now I'm going to catch myself every time I do it.
posted by Gordafarin at 6:15 AM on December 13, 2011


Has anybody done a survey of the vocal registers used by men and women in more and less sexually egalitarian societies? If the hypothesis that "vocal fry" is a subconscious attempt by women to sound more serious (and thus masculine) holds, I'd be interested to see whether it's most common in societies where strict patriarchy is receding though still a force, and less common in radically egalitarian societies (i.e., Scandinavia). And whether traditional patriarchies have men speaking in hyper-masculine registers and women in hyper-feminine ones.
posted by acb at 6:37 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For some reason I associate this with the same demographic that does copious drinking and photoblogging the experience on facebook. I would venture that the frying may be a conscious or unconscious expression of the prior night's debauchery...

I'm so hungoverrrrrrrr.....
posted by toastchee at 6:57 AM on December 13, 2011


OR WHY NOT ZOIDBERG?

Vocal Zoidbrg is when you end your sentences with "WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP" and run out of the room sideways.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:01 AM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Vocal fry is NOT just a different register. It is lack of air movement. If you want a serious voice, you have to use your lowest register (the sound should feel like it is coming from your chest as opposed to your throat or the back of your nose) AND use enough air. Like they taught in school, enunciate and project.

I know someone who does this, and is frustrated when people can't hear her, which means she goes deeper into the croak and people can hear her even less.

(Vocal fry is not hoarseness.)
posted by gjc at 7:09 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Vocal fry is NOT just a different register.

This exactly. I have a low-pitched voice (alto IIs represent!), and when I'm trying to be heard in a loud environment (mefi meetups in bars, I'm looking at you), I do what all my choir directors taught: breath from the diaphragm, and project. Imagine the inside of your mouth is an enormous, high-ceilinged room.

I do the vocal fry thing, at least sometimes. But it's not the same as pitch or register, and it doesn't make it easier to be heard when it's noisy.
posted by rtha at 7:23 AM on December 13, 2011


Thanks to all the vox experts for the advice on breath control and projection. I'm teaching online today and taking furious notes.
posted by maudlin at 7:28 AM on December 13, 2011


My wife does this. We call it "Speaking Krang."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My step-daughter talks like this. It always struck me as an evolution of valley-speak, but with the added low register and some sort of hard "r" sound, like she's really leaning in on that "r", as in "I'm rully, rully boooored." There's also what I mentally refer to as a "drop-jaw" way of enunciating. ("I aaam the fuh-irst womaaaan to hoold this jaaaaahb.") Lots of the younger women I work with (in their early twenties) speak this way. Glad to be able to put a name to it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:40 AM on December 13, 2011


Do you dismiss people who uptalk?

I don't dismiss them, but I have on more than one occasion not hired them (2x, 2 women).
posted by thinkpiece at 1:17 PM on December 13, 2011


Huh.

So I just taught an online course for 4 hours. I think I managed to breathe and project fairly well, and usually kept from talking too fast.

Most of the time, my voice was pretty animated and expressive, with lots of tonal variation. I declared quite a few things confidently, and I even used uptalk from time to time. (This wasn't a deliberate choice, but it intuitively seems to make sense in a classroom and if you don't agree, fuck you?)

But there were a few defined situations where I found myself creaking like a barn door and frying like a rasher of bacon.

1) When I was commiserating with my students about some dumb features of the software.
2) When I was clarifying an explanation or repeating instructions for a student, reassuring them explicitly or implicitly that their confusion was my fault.
3) When I was apologizing for a bad joke.

So in my experience, at least, when in a professional capacity, vocal fry seems to act act as a leveler or some kind of social grooming. Reassurance, sympathy, apology: a cracking voice just seems to make it work, even though it was not at all a deliberate choice on my part. Maybe Bill Clinton knows something after all.
posted by maudlin at 1:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


tristeza: please think about what you are saying here. First off, you're saying "Ladies". You've already pissed me off. But that's not universal.

Wha? 99 times out of a hundred that I notice vocal fry it's women. And I use the word "ladies." Sue me.

What is a little more universal is your insinuation that anyone who has this speech pattern isn't worth listening to. Do you dismiss people who uptalk? or who have a southern drawl?

No - I meant that that sound of vocal fry is nauseating and I can't bear to listen to it, AND it drives me nuts that professional broadcasters can't be arsed to use enough breath to speak with command. Proverbial nails on a chalkboard for me.
posted by tristeza at 6:55 PM on December 13, 2011


Vocal fry reminds me of the observation in university that some snobbish young men use to fry their vocals. My understanding of this was that they wanted to sound more refined and older than they were.
And then I was struck how Proust described the same phenomenon with young men in A l'ombre des jeuness filles en fleur!
posted by joost de vries at 6:24 AM on December 14, 2011


I never noticed this before but I'm currently watching Piper Perabo in Covert Affairs. She does this constantly. Thanks for pointing this out and distracting me.
posted by unliteral at 8:06 AM on December 14, 2011


I used to do this in my teenage years, largely due to the influence of Katharine Hepburn. Then it became clear that it was killing my singing voice, so I stopped. When it happened accidentally at the ends of spoken lines, acting teachers would chide me for going "off the voice."

Vocal fry is still a decent way to warm up your chest voice, though, especially if you feel gunk on your cords. Take a good breath, then vocal fry, then go straight into a note below middle C. Repeat up and down that range. Voilà, chest voice.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:11 PM on December 15, 2011


I always thought that Brian Mulroney was a pretty good example of someone who used vocal fried more than anyone I can remember. Ahhhhhh.....
posted by vckeating at 11:48 AM on December 19, 2011


Vocal fry is associated with a lack of air flow because when a given person is speaking in what is a high pitch for them, their vocal cords are tight and close together and restrict the flow of air, which makes the air in your lungs last longer, whereas in vocal fry, the vocal cords relax and let more air through, and you're lucky if it lasts to the end of the sentence.
posted by jamjam at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2011


"Perhaps the coverage of vocal fry could be understood as being part of a larger trend of policing the behavior of women. In a lot of ways (dietarily, sexually, physically, professionally, etc.), there is a razor thin range of acceptability for young women, which now apparently includes their pitch contours. If you end your utterances with a final pitch rise, you're doing uptalk (a.k.a. ending all your sentences with question marks), and if you end them with falling pitches, you're doing vocal fry."
I don't think it's linguists' fault.

And,

"When watching science reporting like this, there's always the possibility that the researchers' work is being misconstrued, either by the media outlet, or by their institution's press office. So, I made good use of my institutional access to academic journals, and read the original paper (even livetweeted the process) by Wolk, Abdelli-Beruh & Slavin (2011), which was published in the Journal of Voice. Here are the claims that rubbed me so wrong about the Today Show clip.
  • Use of vocal fry is a new phenomenon.
  • Vocal fry is exclusively a female phenomenon.
  • Vocal fry is created and spread by figures in popular media (e.g. Ke$ha, Kim Kardashian).
    I read the original paper with the aim of determining whether
  • there is evidence in the paper supporting these claims,
  • the researchers themselves made these claims."
  • Debunking BS reporting On Vocal Fry
    posted by iamkimiam at 5:02 PM on January 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Wow that "news" video in your second link is really awful! I got mad just watching it.
    posted by small_ruminant at 11:24 PM on January 3, 2012


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