In a paper published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, a University of Canterbury study has found that vocal fry is voluntary and is becoming common in some young New Zealand women.
Fried things are delicious. But apparently fried lady voices are not.
The study that’s causing such a fuss today isn’t talking about anything new – vocal fry, the creaky voice often attributed to Kardashains and Zooey Deschanel, has been the subject of much discussion since the Kardashians were first birthed into the public consciousness in 2007.
A study from Long Island University on vocal fry in “young adult female speakers” – ie Valley Girl speak – published in 2012 sought to understand what this new terrifying trait might mean for the future of mankind. They found approximately two-thirds of this population used vocal fry and that it was most likely to occur at the end of sentences.
It’s a trait overwhelmingly attributed women, despite being shared by men and women, and unsurprisingly the University of Canterbury only surveyed New Zealand women too. It also found that men prefer women with higher voices yet both men and women rate lower voices in women as sounding more authoritative. Connect those dots how you will.
Vocal fry, or glottalisation, is a creaking sound made by the vocal chords as a result of dropping the voice to its lowest vocal register. The three vocal registers are falsetto, modal and vocal fry.
The creaking sound is a result of the vocal fold fluttering.
It was first identified by linguist David Crystal in 1964 among British men as a way to denote their superior social standing.
Another linguistic trend often discussed alongside women’s vocal fry is ‘uptalk’ – the habit of ending sentences as if one was asking a question, of which we New Zealanders are the Olympic gold medallists. One of the theories around uptalk, which fits the profile for both women in general and New Zealanders, is that it’s a less confrontational manner of speaking that doesn’t come across as arrogant or too assertive.
I’ve gotten a few vocal fry complaints over the years. It was always men and by the second para they’d usually have moved onto a few *other* reasons why they objected to hearing a young(er) woman on the radio. Never heard of one male colleague getting anything similar.
— Noelle McCarthy (@noellevivien) November 29, 2018
In 2015, the public radio show and podcast This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass – a man with both a mid-Atlantic drawl and textbook vocal fry – did a segment about the phenomenon in response to the hate mail they’d received about their reporters’ voices. The criticism was solely directed at the women on staff.
A number of New Zealand women broadcasters report being told to smoke and drink whiskey in the early stages of their career in order to lower their speaking voices, but yet have also been criticised for vocal fry.
I was voice trained lower and picked up vocal fry and then had to be voice trained out of vocal fry lol. solid effort by all
— Laura Cunningham (@L__Cunningham) November 29, 2018
Considering the changing goalposts, maybe we should stop pretending the issue is vocal fry and commission a study into why so many people just don’t want to hear women speak.