“Creaky” and “croaky” are two adjectives some use to describe the new speech pattern embraced by many young women, dubbed “vocal fry.”
Scientists have actually studied the phenomenon, said to be being fueled by the speech trends of young female pop singers, such as Britney Spears and Ke$ha. A report published in Journal of Voice studies vocal fry, which is the gravelly sound the voice makes when some women, noticeably pop singers of today, slip into a lower tone while speaking, typically at the end of a sentence. One study author, Nassima Abdelli-Beruh, describes the sound as “rattled, popping air. … It's so obvious and unnatural, using vocal fry is bound to catch attention. … It could be that the speaker is trying to mark a syntactic boundary, indicating that they are finished speaking," she suggested in a release.
But, it’s not just pop singers who are pushing vocal fry. As some have observed, Kim Kardashian’s speech is heavy with vocal fry. And, her female fans, consciously or otherwise, are responding, the study indicates. But, historically, the speech pattern has been considered a disorder, the researchers explained, and can lead to contact granulomas, described as a benign but painful lesion on the vocal cords. However, because of the growing trend of vocal fry, this one-time disorder is becoming normalized. In fact, according to researchers, when assessing 34 college-aged women, ages 18-25, more than two-thirds were found to use vocal fry speech.
Abdelli-Beruh, a professor at Long Island Univeristy, indicated that men do not engage in vocal fry in the numbers of females. In a similar study on college men, the researchers found that men typically use vocal fry much less often, although some dialects were more apt to use the croaky tones. "Interestingly, some research indicates that in some dialects of British English, male speakers use fry more often than female. So maybe it is also a gender marker," Abdelli-Beruh said. Also, Abdelli-Beruh indicated that the trend is likely generational, picked up most often by younger speakers.
The trend of vocal fry may be growing among young women, but it is a pattern that Dr. Harry Hollien and colleagues urged be recognized in 1966 and 1968 as the lowest of the three normal voice registers, along with the high-pitched falsetto and normal speaking voice, modal.
Regardless, the fact that speakers in the study who used vocal fry did not use it when speaking vowel sounds suggested that its use is a habit or social practice. It could be used subconsciously, but may well be a speech pattern young women actually practice. It is, however, a practice that researchers said could lead to vocal cord damage over time.
The full study article, "Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers," is available online on the Journal of Voice website.
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