Vocal fry – it’s everywhere (once you notice it)

April 21, 2020 by Alison Tunley

Get a Free Quote

Our Accreditations

  • ATA Logo
  • ATC Logo
  • BSI 9001 Logo
  • BSI 9001 Logo
  • DIN EN 15038 Logo

Recent Updates

Buckets and spoons: an etymological tour of death metaphors

The need to translate English into English is more common than you might imagine, where phrases of English are deployed in a foreign language and have taken on an alternative meaning that isn’t appropriate in actual English text. Read More

Vocal fry has been my latest experience of frequency illusion, or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, as it is sometimes known. In other words, the experience of learning about something new then encountering references to it absolutely everywhere. Maybe this blog post will trigger a similar experience for you.

Anyway, back to vocal fry, which I somehow missed the memo on, despite having a PhD in phonetics and an interest in speech characteristics. The term is used to describe a low-pitched vocal register with a characteristic rough, creaking sound. It is produced by means of a loose glottal closure so that the vocal folds form a large, irregularly vibrating mass with air passing through slowly to create the distinctive popping or creaking sound.

 Vocal fry – it’s everywhere (once you notice it)

One reason this vocal style passed me by is that it has predominantly been adopted by younger speakers, particularly in America. A study in the journal American Speech examines the prevalence of the register among American females, American males and Japanese females. The author also addresses the sociolinguistic significance of the register as used by female speakers, where it is said to be interpreted as “hesitant, nonaggressive, and informal but also educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile.”

Much of the discussion around the prevalence of vocal fry suggests it is a register adopted particularly by young women. But an article in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America looking at spontaneous speech found more vocal fry for men than women.

So why has female fry attracted so much more attention? It’s possible that vocal fry is more noticeable in female speech because it involves descending to a pitch that is much lower than the standard register. But you also wonder if women simply can’t win. An article in Slate back in 2013 highlights how women are criticised for their use of up-talk (rising intonation at the end of sentences) and now are equally being derided for their use of a lower register. Even the feminists are at it, with Naomi Wolf instructing young women to “give up the vocal fry” while bemoaning the “current trend for undermining female voice”.

Speech patterns are certainly influenced by social mirroring, so it should hardly be surprising if young people, in particular, are picking up vocal styles from each other and from current high-profile celebrities. These registers may also seem incongruous or unnatural to the older listener. But if linguists know one thing for sure, language and speech styles are constantly evolving so maybe vocal fry is the future.





Share This Post


Add Comment

Andreea Mohan

Taylor Wessing LLP

We are very pleased with the services provided by Rosetta Translations. They always send very prompt responses, transparent prices and deliver their work product at the highest standards.

More Testimonials

Jackie Brook, Sr Product Manager

American Express

Thank you very much for your prompt and efficient service.

More Testimonials

Conor McLarnon

Maximus Crushing and Screening

I have translated multiple projects with Rosetta now and I cannot emphasise how great the service they provide is; quality, turnaround time and pricing is the best I have found yet. The qualities of translations we receive are of the highest standard and communication from the start of a project to the end is consistent.

For a company looking into translations, I would highly recommend Rosetta as first pick, as the support and service they provide is first class.

More Testimonials

Get a Free Quote

© 2024 All Rights Reserved
Rosetta Translation, 133 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QA · 0207 248 2905