I saw an interesting article yesterday about the emergence of “vocal fry” in the speech patterns of young American English-speaking females. According to the article,
Vocal fry, or glottalization, is a low, staccato vibration during speech, produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal cords (listen here).
It’s that “uh-uh-uh-uh-uh” sound, kind of like a staccato motor, that I only intentionally use when I’m being really sarcastic, or mocking sorority girls, or expressing frustration or uncertainty. Okay, so maybe I do use it a lot. But this study found that females tended to end sentences they were reading out loud with the creak, which I wouldn’t have expected. Normally speakers reading aloud tend to use more formal pronunciation patterns than in everyday conversation. And now that I’ve started paying attention, I have noticed myself tagging the ends of sentences with a dip in intonation that sometimes goes all the way down into a “vocal fry.” I’ll be keeping my ears open to see if I notice it in others as well. It’s just fascinating, isn’t it, that these kinds of things can be totally unconscious, yet systematic. What’s behind the emergence of this trend, and why is it only females? The article states:
The team’s next steps will attempt to find out when this habit started—and if it is indeed a budding trend.
The researchers also plan to test students in high schools and middle schools to learn why young women creak when they speak. “Young students tend to use it when they get together,” Abdelli-Beruh says. “Maybe this is a social link between members of a group.”
It will be interesting to see if they are able to pinpoint significant cultural influences that might have triggered the rise of this creaky voice trend, but even if they don’t it’s still a fascinating example of the way the languages we speak are living organisms, constantly evolving, the mutations spreading through soundwaves from brain to brain.