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vocal fry

noun [uncountable/countable]

a speech habit in which a speaker lowers their voice at the end of a sentence by allowing air to slowly vibrate the vocal cords and produce a low, rattling sound

vocal fry

verb intransitive/transitive



'Late last year, America's Science journal reported on a New York study that showed vocal fry – the drawling, vibrating, drawing out of words in phrases such as "no waaaaaay" and "oh my gaaaaaahhhd" – was well on its way to becoming a language fad.'

The Independent 2nd March 2012

'While the authors of this study call out the increased prevalence of vocal fries as a trend, The Atlantic reports today that it really isn't a growing trend but has been around "forever" – in both men and women …'

The Blaze 13th December 2011

'People love dramatic readings; there's something about a vocal-fried puree of Antonio Banderas and your local Shakespearean trouper, applied to colloquial or poppy texts, that deepens voices the comedy world over.'

popdust.com 10th January 2012

The expression vocal fry has recently entered the limelight, and has nothing whatsoever to do with oil-based cooking habits, or frenzied exclamations about a portion of fish and chips! It in fact describes a speech habit which, it has recently been observed, seems to be on the increase among young, female speakers of American English.

vocal fry is a technique often used by singers as a way of hitting lower notes. A contemporary example is female artist Britney Spears

Vocal fry describes a voice pattern which sounds like a low, creaky vibration applied to words at the end of sentences or phrases in running speech. If you're finding it hard to imagine, click on this link, which gives a demonstration. It's produced by allowing air to slowly bubble through the vocal cords and make a low popping or rattling sound.

Vocal fry is a technique often used by singers as a way of hitting lower notes. A contemporary example is female artist Britney Spears, who uses vocal fry extensively in the 2000 song Oops, I did it again. The technique's formal identification had, however, largely been confined to the domain of phonetics, until a study undertaken by New York's Long Island University in late 2011 brought the terminology into the mainstream. An analysis of recordings of sentences read by college-age women revealed that nearly two-thirds of subjects used vocal fry. These results sparked a flurry of discussion about the new prevalence of the speech habit, identifying it as a fad becoming widely adopted by younger females. However specialists in the field, such as American linguist Mark Liberman, argue that vocal fry, also sometimes known informally as 'creaky voice', has in fact been a feature of (sentence-final) American English for some time, though evidence does suggest that it's more commonly used by women than men.

Whether a new phenomenon or not, a further interesting development is that vocal fry is now influencing languages other than English, some evidence suggesting that it's becoming trendy among young female speakers of Dutch, for instance.

Young women are often regarded as trailblazers in relation to linguistic innovation, and so discussions surrounding vocal fry are not the first time that their speech habits have entered the spotlight. Another vocal trend which has garnered attention in recent years is a phenomenon popularly referred to as uptalk, which describes the tendency to end every utterance with rising intonation, as if it is a question?? Which can be rather irritating? If you hear it repeatedly?...

Background – Vocal fry

The term vocal fry occurs both as an uncountable noun, forming a general reference to the technique, and also as a countable form (plural vocal fries) in describing an instance of its occurrence. The expression can also be used as a verb, though this is more commonly realized as a participle adjective (e.g vocal-fried notes/words, etc).

Vocal fry forms the lowest level of the taxonomy of vocal registers. A vocal register is a series of tones in the human voice that are produced by one particular vibratory pattern of the vocal cords. The highest vocal register is whistle, and between it and vocal fry are registers falsetto and modal, the latter representing a normal speaking voice. Though widely recognised as a singing technique for reaching very low pitches not available in the modal register (a normal voice), use of the term vocal fry is more usually associated with phonetics and speech therapy, where it is sometimes considered a speech disorder. In some languages, such as Vietnamese, the use of vocal fry even has linguistic significance in that it can change the meaning of a word.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 21st May 2012.

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