Back in September 2011, researchers from Long Island University published a paper in The Journal Of Voice identifying a fluttering of the vocal chords in the speech patterns of their research subjects: 34 women aged 18-25. Known as vocal fry, it’s a sound that brings back memories of Britney Spears’ creaky crooning of ‘oh baby baby, how was I supposed to know?‘ or, well, Zooey Deschanel. In pop culture, vocal fry is a common characteristic of the dumb, popular girl – think Elle Woods in Legally Blonde or any of the Kardashian sisters in any episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
And now, this linguistic “trend” is back in the spotlight.
Naomi Wolf, the legendary feminist writer who gave us The Beauty Myth, recently wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian, where she claims that “this speech pattern makes young women who use it sound less competent, less trustworthy and less hireable.” (She also addresses uptalking and run-on sentences.)
However, an article in The NY Times explaining the origins of the fry suggests the contrary. According to Carmen Fought, a linguistics professor at Pitzer College in California, “If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid… The truth is this: young women take linguistic features and use them as powerful tools.”
Wolf firmly disagrees that the fry is a tool used to empower women: “It is because these young women are so empowered that our culture assigned them a socially appropriate mannerism that is certain to tangle their steps and trivialize their important messages to the world.” Using the vocal fry can make a woman sound disinterested and excessively ‘girly,’ and may make colleagues – particularly older colleagues – find it difficult to take them seriously in the workplace.
It has been theorized that vocal fry is a woman’s way of asserting her dominance in a situation by lowering the register of her voice, making her sound more masculine. It’s also been suggested that “people tend to associate the female creak with being educated, urban-oriented and upwardly mobile,” according to Time. Another possibility, as highlighted in a Toronto Star article, is that this may simply be “how we talk now” and has nothing to do with gender. After all, “we listen to what a guy has to say, not how he says it.”
Either way, excessive use of the vocal fry can be hard on your vocal chords. And it’s annoying. Regardless of gender, I think it’s about time that society hopped off the vocal fry bandwagon and onto the next annoying speech habit.
What do you think of vocal fry? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.