In June, 2014, I was invited to say a few words about vocal fry on the local NPR affiliate, KJZZ. That was a lot of fun. Here’s the link to the broadcast: http://kjzz.org/content/32760/what-vocal-fry
Vocal fry (aka glottal fry, creaky voice, froggy voice, glottalization) has been all over the news in recent years:
Although vocal fry tends to be negatively evaluated and associated with young women (e.g., the Kardashians, Britney Spears), it really has a much longer history. Look at any old Hollywood film, and you’ll see vocal fry is rampant in the speech of “tough” female roles (think Bette Davis, Mae West, or Joan Crawford) or evil characters such as the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Of course, vocal fry isn’t always associated with women. Often the male villains (e.g., Vincent Price) in old movies used vocal fry to convey their sinister character. Another interesting fact is that vocal fry if found often in the speech of British men. It is so prevalent now that it can be heard by both men and women on almost any radio or TV broadcast.
There is no single cause or purpose for vocal fry, but research does point out several interesting and conflicting facts:
- Up to two-thirds of American women use it.
- It conveys a sense of confidence and and represents an image of an upwardly mobile, sophisticated woman.
- It lowers the female pitch, bringing it closer to male range (and thereby conveys more power and authority).
- It is associated with muscle tension–but this often due to an underlying pathology, which is NOT the same vocal fry that people are talking about in popular culture.
- It can be used for comedic effect.
- It can be used to represent sexuality and desirability.
- It can make the speaker sound laid-back.
- Women listeners tend to rate vocal fry more harshly.
- It is used when expressing complaints.
- It is not random but often occurs at the end of an utterance, signaling completion and even inviting the listener to empathize with the speaker’s perspective.
- Because it tends to be negatively evaluated by employers, there is concern that it can influence hiring decisions.