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What'd Ya Say? Wednesday: Vocal Fry

13 February 2013

Only a mere year ago I was sitting in my first Linguistics class, Introduction to Linguistics. My teacher was an enthusiastic grad student who had an interest in sociolinguistics. Basically, that means he was interested in how society affects language (vocabulary, sounds, pronunciation, etc.) A few examples of this would be studying African American Vernacular or Gay Speech, and see how those subcultures utilize language in different ways than the umbrella culture. After a few months and learning the basics of linguistics, we began to talk about dialects, sociolinguistics, etc. One thing that came up was this new "trend" of the vocal fry, which is often seen in younger female speech as of right now.

What is the vocal fry you ask? Think back to hearing your daughter, niece, neighbor speak. Or better yet, have you heard Ke$ha or Brittany Spears talk? This vocalization is illustrated when people tend to draw out the end of their sentence in a low, vibrating tone. Perhaps a video could better explain it, so here's an example for you to listen to (although she exaggerates it greatly):

Does it make sense now? Some say that it's become a trend that's pioneering new speech patterns, especially since girls tend to use it for social acceptance or to show irritation (at least I think). After all, other speech patterns have caught on over the past decades, or at least gained attention/knowledge.

As she states, this is pretty bad. Not only for other's ears and sanity, but for the speaker's vocal health as well. The vocal folds are meant to vibrate to pronounce voiced sounds, such as [z], [b] and [g]. This is only meant for short bursts and the vibration isn't as rough. On the other hand, the vocal fry makes the sound elongated and has the vocal folds hitting each other more for a longer time. In fact, Speech Language Pathologists used to help people who did this, considering it as a slight voice impediment. There's debate as to if it is completely harmful(or at least long-term), but I'd think it would at least somewhat bad if kept up for a long time. I wonder if we could look in and see if there's any irritation there.

So what do you think... epidemic or natural? Safe, hazardous, or neither?