‘Vocal fry’ was trending again. This time I picked it up through SPA’s twitter feed:
I hear it every day. At a rough estimate, perhaps 20% of my colleagues at uni use it habitually, and many more at the end of sentences. I even hear myself do it. Here’s my housemate (mid 20s male) doing it:
Across the coverage, several things become apparent:
- It is a BAD thing: “annoying”, “vulgar”, “lazy”, “whiny”, “juvenile”, “shallow”, etc. Lexicon Valley (a supposedly reputable linguistics podcast) host Bob Garfield caused a stir by describing it as “obnoxious”, “repulsive” and “mindless”.
- It is pathological: However, the absence of hard clinical evidence often proves a barrier. So they resort to weasel words: “some doctors say there is a risk they could be doing permanent damage to their vocal chords.” When they do get experts, often they contradict the headlines. So the ENT interviewed by Portland TV network KATU talks (bizarrely enough) about chronic cough causing vocal fry, and the poor SLP interrogated by Channel 3000 can only offer a rephrasing of Titze and Verdolini’s impressive dictum that any vocal behaviour is damaging in excess, and no behaviour is damaging in small enough doses.
- It is socially hazardous: in addition to the paper above, none other than Claudio Milstein, one of the most esteemed voice clinicians in the States, seemed to suggest that fry is a habit that, along with fillers like “you know” and “like”, gives the impression of low intellect (!).
- It is occupationally risky. The study SPA linked to above noted “that young American females should avoid using vocal fry speech in order to maximize labor market opportunities.“
Here’s one of probably thousands comments on the articles mentioned above that illustrates the level of disgust people have for this ‘vocal tic’:
Simply put, it’s just another way to ignore the structural barriers women face to occupational success. People seem unwilling to admit that the barriers are cultural, historical and institutional, and instead seek to blame the women themselves. You didn’t get the job because you used uptalk. Because you used vocal fry. Because you made grammatical errors.
Luckily, there have been a few people to question this dominant narrative. Mark Liberman at Language Log has deconstructed many of the faulty assumptions that underly the above assertions (here’s a list). A voice training business wrote a stirring defense of women’s voices, and here is Amanda Hess’s response to Bob Garfield as referenced above.
(Cover Image by user Managementboy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)