What's The Big Deal About Vocal Fry

Is It Annoying, Empowering, or Just Plain Sexist

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What's the Big Deal About Vocal Fry?
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What's the Big Deal About Vocal Fry?

We'll be scrolling through many annoying modern speech mannerisms on today's show, but somehow the glowing white coal in the middle of it all is "vocal fry" -- also known as creaky voice.

It's an affectation popular among younger girls, although older actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon have used it in film roles, usually when playing, well, kind of an airhead.  

The word "annoying"  comes up a lot in reference to this.

So is this a grating, faddish speech mode crying out for eradication? Or is it just something girls do as a way of bonding and emphasizing shared sensibilities?

You'd be surprised at the heat this debate has generated online, especially at Slate magazine.

On this show, a young (female) essayist, a linguist, and a journalist who has studied why we find certain things annoying. 

You can join the conversation. E-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.




After listening to your very interesting show on 'up speak' yesterday, I am interested to know if the new use of 'at' to end a sentence is grammatically correct.
The first time that I heard you used the phase I was shocked. Several news persons, politicians,etc. have started using this phase 'Where we're at.' I not Yale educated but I do admit to being a senior citizen and think my 10th grade English teacher would be shocked.
Am I correct that sentences should not end with a preposition?


To George the tow truck guy:

I heard your comment on the foster care show and was really moved by it; these few days later I'm still thinking about what you said. Your vocal pattern was fine, not annoying at all.

But I know it can be weird to hear your own voice. The few times I've heard my voice on an answering machines or whatever I've had the same reaction. A couple of times I haven't even recognized it for a few seconds, just thought, "who is that, with that awful, sing-song voice? Oh no..." So I think a lot of people probably feel that way when they hear themselves.

Cindy writes about Amanda:

politely but CONFIDENTLY predicts that young women will be interviewed by slightly older young women. As an old person (64) I'm beginning to see that she's right. In terms of her linguistic and political correctness, it sounds like Amanda attended Grinnell College, as my 24 year old daughter did. My daughter and her Grinnell peers feel that they ARE THE VERY NEAR FUTURE. Daughter majored in linguistics and speaks very carefully, and doesn't do vocal fry, but her friends do

Louise writes:

Does the CT "gutteral T" pertain to todays show? You could probably spend an hour on that alone.

George writes:

Hey Colin, this is George the tow truck guy.

I listened back to yesterdays show, and it was the first time I've heard myself talk in many many years, and I was very taken aback at my own vocal patterns. I can only imagine how excruciatingly annoying all my heavy pauses are to other people, because they were painful to me, haha.

I had assumed that they were the result of the subject matter, but my girlfriend confirmed for me that I do indeed speak like that all of the time and that yes, its very annoying, and now I'm super self conscious about it.

Just thought that would be an interesting bit!

Lynn writes:

As a medical transcriptionist who hears over 100 different dictators a week, I can tell you that 1) I can recognize the majority if them from their voices, 2) of all the docs, I only have 2 egregious uptalkers--both ate women, and 3) besides the jargon, what I love about my work is the variety of vocal patterns and accents.

A speech/language anecdote:
I was visiting with an old griend, yakking the morning away, when my Russisn prof phoned. I answered, spoke to him in Russisn gor a few minutes, hung up, and turned to see a look of incredulity on my friend's face.
"You just became a completely different person!" she exclaimed. It's true: Russian has a wider range of inflection the English, my vocal tone smoothes out, and even my body language changes. It is unconcious, it just jappens with the transition to Russian from English.

Great show as ushe. Totes.

Joe writes:

How about people who pronounce the letter L in the back of their throat

Vic writes:

The reason Up-Talk is so annoying is because it represents a misplaced question mark.

Try writing out a sentence that takes into account the up-talk and place a "?" where the speaker changes their tone. The sentence will read back the way it was spoken.

One would think it would be hard to actually misplace punctuation while speaking..

Dave writes:

Emily Bazelon not only used "the fry" but she used the "Valleyism" of pronouncing her "A"s as "ah", as in "Let me give you an exahhmple." (Lots of fry on the "ple.") Oof!

Chris writes:

I want to tear my ears off every time Zoe Chace does a report for All Things Considered. It's a combination of the vocal uptick at the end of every sentence, plus the way she mispronounces vowels. It's maddening, and I can't believe they let her do reports like that. It sounds like she's doing an NPR impersonation and it makes the piece sound ironically detached.

Dave writes:

Faith Middleton had an author on yesterday (Emily Bazelton), and while I was interested in the topic, I had to turn off the show because the author's frying was too irritating.

I'm aghast that there are several reporters on NPR (national) that speak w/ vocal fry. Not only do I have a hard time taking them seriously, I can't really follow their stories since I'm so busy mocking them.