Monday, December 12, 2011


How College Girls Talk

A curious vocal pattern has crept into the speech of young adult women who speak American English: low, creaky vibrations, also called vocal fry. Pop singers, such as Britney Spears, slip vocal fry into their music as a way to reach low notes and add style. Now, a new study of young women in New York state shows that the same guttural vibration — once considered a speech disorder — has become a language fad.

Uh oh! The good news, though, is that "The chances of it leading to vocal damage are very minimal." It goes like this.

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That sounds like the noise I make when I really don't want to get out of bed on Monday mornings...


@heyad my thoughts EXACTLY.


@redheadedandcrazy haha. THIRDED.


Oh shit, my voice sounds like that kind of? I always assumed it was just second puberty/years of smoking.

Also the years of puking! Damn, how could I forget about those. Those were the best years of my life.

Dirty Hands

I know somebody who does this!!! Now I want to tell her that she has vocal fry without sounding really creepy, because we don't know each other that well...


It sounds like a groan! I wish I could hear the sound bites from the study ... are people just dropping their voices at the end of sentences, or making that groaning noise?


@heb New study show's college girls sick of social studies bullshit, just want to go back to sleep: groaning during surveys at an all time high.


@heb I realise I do this all the time, but it's usually at the end of a sentence like "I knowwwww" or when I'm making fun of myself/complaining about something/to show that I'm being sort of sarcastic/etc? I think it's mostly an expressive thing or another way to add meaning to a sentence with inflection, at least among people I know.


@heb This person sort of does it? I feel sort of bad linking her for this reason, but it was a very helpful example for me...


Does anyone have any advice for someone who wants to bandwagon onto this hot new vocal trend without significantly compromising her current conversational idiom of just yelling "Motherfucker!" a lot, for no reason, regardless of the occasion? I am asking for A Friend. (A friend who does not get invited back to holidays with grandparents or fancy-dress parties.)

raised amongst catalogs

@wharrgarbl No advice; just an invitation for Your Friend to sit by me.


@wharrgarbl just drop it right into the Muh in mother. idiom intact, new trend integrated and ever appealing world weariness added as a bonus.


So that's why the young waitress was annoyed when I ordered a fry-job.


1. the new new york times editor?
2. 0:38 of this live performance of "cruel" by st. vincent!!

Feminist Killjoy

What does it sound like when these college girls are just talking? Or is this study just saying we're groaning more? That is exactly what I sound like when I'm groaning about some shit I don't want to do. "This essay............ugggghhhhhhhhhhhhh-h-h-h-h-h"


Does anyone else feel like they have been forgetting to do something all these years? Like before you leave the house, you have to put your voice on kind of thing?

Porn Peddler

I don't feel like this is a new thing or at all uncommon? This is just kind of how I talk when I get sick of talking/feel apathetic/grouchy.


@Third Wave Housewife The next study should consider why college girls end declarative sentences with question marks.


@DarthChewie To be non confrontational, as society demands of them.


Is it accompanied by looong protraaacted syllables with laboured emphasis and uptalking at the end? Cos, liiiike, *literally* allll the girls in the UK have this toooo? I nearly punched a girl on the bus the other day droning on to her friend about her year spent travelling and her boyfriend.


@rayray Yes, I've noticed it in conjunction with "Valley Girl" speak. (No judgment -- I say this as a proud Valley Girl.)


Will this replace the pernicious plague of up-talking? Because that shit has got to go!

fondue with cheddar

@kefuoe That's exactly what I was going to say?


@kefuoe Nope, sorry! They aren't mutually exclusive. Uptalk can happen in any register - the final high tone is relative to whatever is before it, which could be already low or high.


Damn, cause I just got? the hang of? that upward interrogative inflection? in place of natural pauses? Now there's a whole new thing? I'm going to need to figure out?


@annepersand I know? I've gotten really pretty good? at using that sort of thing? You know, for humorous effect? By coupling it with really, really broad statements? and really, really emphatic phrasing?

"I don't know? I usually feel like investment bankers? are the scum of the earth? And we'd all be better off? if it were legal to hunt them for sport?"


@wharrgarbl I would pay real cash money to hear you combine vocal fry and irritating upward inflection.

fondue with cheddar

@Mingus_Thurber Methinks it would be painful.


@Mingus_Thurber Let's all just imagine that that's what Bane is doing in Nolan's new Batman installment.


@Mingus_Thurber It's possible! The Kardashians are a good example.


@koala What's "6 words I never thought I'd see together", Alex?


@packedsuitcase Ha! I guess context is important. :)

social theory

when i learned about it back in undergrad, it was called creaky voice. it used to be associated with certain social groups and was used as a tool of social distinction. i think in the study i read it was about young latina women, but i've also heard creaky voice in distinctions between lesbians/queer women and straight women. i guess i do it, too, although i haven't thought long and hard about when and why. curious!

Dirty Hands

@social theory Aha! So that's what it is! I looked up "creaky voice" and found another example thereof:

no way

@Dirty Hands Informative - thank you.


@social theory You're right! It's not something that only young women do. But for some reason when young women do it, it is loaded with social meaning - and that is what really needs to be studied.

Here is a little proof that it's not only young women that do it. Sorry if it's a little technical.

social theory

@koala yep, absolutely! it would be really interesting to compare this to speakers who tend to end their sentences with an uptick in pitch (i.e. the dreaded [by my parents] valley girl question-statement) with speakers who creak at the ends of their sentences.

but, the little sociolinguist in me is mostly just surprised that people think this is new and that there's a kind of moral panic flavor to the coverage.


I read about this on the weekend, and I still don't think I get it. I can't think of instances that I've heard it in actual conversation, and they didn't give any conversational examples! How is it actually integrated into speech? It's a mystery to me. But then again, I think I might be the public radio demographic.


@gobblegirl: Did you ever watch Daria? A few of the characters on there had some real obvious vocal fry/creaky voice happening.

@mouthalmighty Half of the Fashion Club!!!!

fondue with cheddar

@gobblegirl @Dirty Hands posted a link to a good example above: http://squibbage.blogspot.com/2009/07/creaky-voice-craze.html



If you're the NPR demographic, you've heard it. It's everywhere on NPR.


I def have vocal fry. I think most young women in NYC do. I think it's a couple of factors: 1. Hoarse voices are foxy and 2. We don't want to sound squeaky and uptalky.


@Manatee Yes! I was reading about this on Reddit, and I got so frustrated because it was a bunch of dudes going ugh this is so annoying I hate ladies who do this. I have been aware of my own vocal fry for a while because my dad complains about my voice, which, whatever. BUT I also am aware that the reason I do it is because I want to be taken seriously, and I know my voice is naturally pretty high, and so I semi-consciously try to pitch my voice lower so I don't sound like Paris Hilton at work.
I hate that people are calling this annoying--you can't help it after a while!


@PrettyNicola "I hate that people are calling this annoying"
After a while, you figure that what at least half those people are saying is "I find women talking annoying."


@Manatee Yeah, my initial reaction was: What is this thing? I've never heard of it. And then I said something out loud and realized, Oh, this is totally something that I do. And I think it is definitely a reaction against baby voice/uptalking. Like, there's no way I can give up "like", but at least I can end each sentence with certainty and a downward pitch. (And for the record, I'm in my 30s and in California, so it's probably a lot more common than one little study makes it seem.)

@PrettyNicola I have a naturally high-pitched voice. I sound like a 12 year old -- a fairly intelligent, definite, assertive 12 year old. I didn't think I did this, until I realized that it's nearly impossible for me to pitch my voice low enough to match my actual age (25) without creaky-voicing a bit. My voice isn't squeaky-high, just very innocent sounding. It is not helpful. Solution: pitching my voice lower because it prevents people from telling me that I'm just the most adorable little thing they've ever seen.


@S. Elizabeth
I do too. I really dislike my voice. It's very soft and high, and I even have a slight "s" lisp (like Drew Barrymore, but not). It's very frustrating because I feel like I need to struggle to be seen and understood as an adult smart lady with valuable things to say.

sceps yarx

@teebs If it makes you feel better, my husband has a slight lisp too, and sometimes it makes him sound like Stefon from SNL. Actually I'm not sure why that would make you feel better. But it is funny! I love it. And anyway, you don't have to prove yourself to people that would judge you that shallowly, anyways. If it wasn't your voice it would be something else, so just tell 'em to thuck it!


I have a small high voice too. I used to be incredibly self conscious of it and absolutely HATE my voice, especially on recordings, but for some reason I started liking it in college, I guess when I realized it made me sound younger (?). Once in a while in class I would pitch my voice lower to make some kind of serious point, mostly unconsciously, but I have no idea how to do "vocal fry" nor want to.


@PrettyNicola YEP, I do this too, and part of it is definitely me kind of liking having a lower raspy voice. I uptalk sometimes also and say "like" a lot but for the most part I like having a lower voice and I think part of the rasping comes with that too... I also use it to hesitate a lot, instead of saying "like" I think I'll sit on a word for a bit and make a weird little creaking noise like that. I definitely don't associate it with sorority girl types and more with girls who are a little bit "tough" or something, though I know it's not exclusive.


I have a (straight male) friend who did this in college. He would adopt this vocal style--completely different from his natural tone/vocal pattern--whenever he was speaking during class. I always just assumed it was a way to try to sound disaffected/like he'd just "rattled off" some response so we'd all be impressed at his casual brilliance?

Anyway, it was annoying.


Fun fact; my dog goes insane when I talk like this.


I work on a college campus. College girl stupid fucking baby voice is way more annoying than vocal fry. Get rid of your "like"s, seriously, they are revolting!


Oh yeah college guys annoy me, too. Sometimes everyone sounds like this.

fondue with cheddar

@julia Bonna donna pitonna! Love that show.

Lila Fowler

It's the whiskey. And the cigarettes. But mostly whiskey. Voices down, bottoms up!


@fusion YES, this is just raspy I-abuse-my-vocal-chords voice! Come on guys, not caring about your oral health is what all the cool kids are doing, JOIN US


In addition to uptalking, I hear more and more young women on the train who have developed a lispy, whistley way of saying "s" and it drives me bonkers. Is this a Thing? Or is it just me and my aging ears.
"Oh man, I can totally hear that high-pitched noise and it's awful, agh!"
"I already turned it off, Jenna."


@SuperGogo My husband has been complaining about this very thing! We were on the long, dreary Metro North ride home from Thanksgiving a couple weeks ago, and there were these two annoying girls sitting behind us talking in Valley Girl voices throughout the whole ride, going, "And I wasssss like, OH MUH GOD, what kind of persssson bringsssss FRIED CHICKEN on a plane? Can you believe it? And then she had the nerve to complain that I ssssstole the armresssssst..." I tuned most of it out, but my husband spent the rest of the night bemoaning the fact that he could still hear the horrible "s" noise even with headphones on.



Yes! A coworker of mine talks like this and it drives me bonkerssss. All day, hissy-hissing coming from two cubicles over. I figured it was Just Me being annoyed at Just Her, but apparently I have to brace (brayssssse) myself against it everywhere I go now.

Also, not to draw undue offtopic attention, but this comment is like my first toe in the waters of the very best online community ever. So, hi everyone!?!?

sarah girl

@SuperGogo I have an "s" lisp but it's not affected, I just never finished speech therapy in elementary school. Sorry :(


@KeepThemScrowling Hello! I'm so thrilled that my cranky Monday-morning whining inspired you to take the plunge and comment in commiseration. I'll be expectin' to see you regular-like 'round these parts now, mister/missy.


@Sarah H. I definitely didn't mean to sound mean about it and I realize a lisp is a standard speech variation that some people have. I just assumed that because I was hearing it more and more freqently, particulary from young women, that it was an affectation for some now. And also, there's really no reason on earth it should sound annoying--I just seem to have a sensitivity to it that's akin to fingernails on the chalkboard, which is why I jumped in with my crotchety complaining. I'm sorry.

sarah girl

@SuperGogo Oh it's okay! My comment sounded more hurt than I intended, haha. And I actually don't think mine sounds like what you're describing; it isn't really hissy, more like how Drew Barrymore does her "s" sounds. But I totally understand those don't-really-understand-it sounds that set you off, I definitely have some myself.


@SuperGogo I'm not a linguist, so grain-of-salt and all that. But the three people I know who have actual lisps sound NOTHING like the 's' whistlers. For one, the 's' sound for those who have lisps is generally kind of subdued. You hear it, but it's not the most prominent part of the conversation. Not so for the 's' whistlers.

In the case of my (youngish, female) coworker, the whistling on her 's' sound is sometimes all you can hear. I sit about 25 feet from her office and I can't really hear her actual conversation but I can hear the hissing of her 's' sound. Another coworker (who'd never really noticed the whistling) told me he noticed it when he got off the elevator one day and didn't see her and couldn't really hear her voice but followed the sound of the whistle to the conference room where they were meeting.

For what it's worth, in this woman's case, the whistling is sometimes more/sometimes less obvious. It seems to depend upon who she's talking to; I can't tell whether she's able to vary it deliberately or whether it occurs unintentionally.


@SuperGogo I have a pretty whistley s. (Sorry!) I think it's because of the permanent retainer behind my front teeth on the bottom. This is a pretty common thing among people around my age (24), so I'd guess that has something to do with it. I mean, maybe some people are doing it on purpose. But that'd be pretty weird!

Creature Cheeseman

@SuperGogo YES I have a friend who did NOT talk like that in high school but picked up hissy s's in college.

fondue with cheddar

@werewolfbarmitzvah At my work, we have a client who does this to the greatest extent humanly possible. It's so loud and grating I have to leave the room every time he comes here.

He also has a very weird and annoying laugh. It's very sudden and high-pitched and way too loud. Ugh, I hate that guy.

fondue with cheddar

@jen325 Actually, we have another client who has creaky voice, and for some reason the particular frequency of the vibration makes me physically ill. I have to leave the room when she's here, too! What's wrong with me?


@KeepThemScrowling Hi! Yes, it is the best here! The bessssssst.


I'm more concerned about the fact that I know way too many people who speak like every statement is a question. Kind of like this? Every sentence ends with an upswing? A bit like they're unsure if they're making a statement or asking a question? Are you asking me or telling me? Please decide and then we can discuss.

And while you're at it, GET OFF MY LAWN!


@JoanTition Yes. That song runs through my head when I talk to about 7 people I know (and it's not just women. Dudes do it, too! What the hell, people?).


@kayjay I had to register to comment and go hunt this down for you. Because I think you'll LOVE IT.


@katy93 I DO love it! I just want everyone to be UNEQUIVOCAL for once. Mean what you say, dammit. Say it with conviction. Doing otherwise makes you sound weak.


@kayjay I have to admit I'm sick of hearing about how weak I sound (not that it was directed at me--just outing myself as one of "those" people). I don't do the "statement like a question" thing, and I'm happy to voice thoroughly unequivocal conviction about, say, Penn State. But I do ask for feedback after I say things often ("Does that make sense?") especially at work. This is another thing that's mentioned in the poem as undermining our collective certainty. I personally was taught that it was part of communication, but I've gotten this "weak" feedback so often (particularly at work) that now I just don't say anything unless I'm prepared to rain down hellfire on people with my absolute certainty, often with charts and graphs and an ROI analysis. It has made me a completely different person, and although there are good things about it, I think I often have a valuable perspective that doesn't get out.

One good thing is that it has made me a championship consensus builder. It's because I can see the blood pressure rising in the people who have information but who aren't willing to share it because they can't offer a fully-formed solution in a single breath (or because, God forbid, the information is complicated). Usually if you can get that information out onto the table, a real solution or consensus can happen. But I think I only recognize it because our suppressed desire to speak quivers at the same frequency.

The other good thing is when you offer only one opinion every three to four months and it's stated with the hellfire and brimstone certainty of a Reformation preacher, boy howdy do people listen. And sometimes tremble in fear. I personally don't believe that "terrifying" and "strong" are even vaguely the same, but apparently lots of people at work believe it, so it'll do. The number of lifelong friendships I now have that start in a bar with someone saying, "When I first met you, you scared the sh*t out of me" is becoming uncomfortably large. One of these days, one of those people is going to meet my boyfriend, who (presumably) thinks I'm nice, and I think the universe will explode.


... or I as I like to call it "Party Girl Voice" or "Look Ma I'm Kathleen Turner"


@JoanTition Yes! We used to call it "Sorority Bitch Voice" but that might have been a regional thing.

Katie Heaney

I can't listen to the clip, but all I know is that sometimes it annoys me when people/studies talk about the "annoying" ways girls talk, because I think it's cool the way language evolves, particularly in the changing ways girls use it to talk to each other, over time. Clueless vs. Mean Girls, you know? I think it's cool. And I guess I'm saying this as someone devoted to the use of "like" in moderation, because I think it allows some level of hyperbolic expressiveness that I sincerely appreciate.


@Katie Heaney This is a good point, but the reason I cringe so much listening to young women talk is the amount of equivocating that happens: "I'm not sure but," "I could be wrong," ending a statement as a question in order to not make too certain a statement, etc. Well, that and the prevalence of "like." Which is an equivocation, too I think. But it takes work to quit "like," I have tried!


@Katie Heaney it's true. Not every woman is capable of perfectly modulated newscaster-speak. It saddens me that people focus on the style of talking, not the content. Affected speaking patterns drive me insane, in general, but it doesn't hurt to be tolerant of others instead of finding yet another superficial quality to judge/obsess about.

Katie Heaney

@julia I can see that. There is definitely something to be said for gendered language adoptions, like women feeling like they can't make too declarative a statement - which is bad. I'm more just bothered by the hand-wringing over stylistic choices, though, and slang, which I consider creative expressions and a bonding tool and an all-around nice thing. (Not that you're doing any hand-wringing! Just in general, I don't like it!)


@Katie Heaney word!!!

i read something recently about how unfamiliar and hostile we human beings are, as a group, to female voices. which definitely comes to mind whenever there is (another!! i have read dozens and dozens of these!) hand-wringing article about how girls talk and it Prevents Them From Being Taken Seriously.

also: men use "like" as a hedge about as much as women do, but it's overwhelmingly considered a female form of speech.

bottom line: let's be on the lookout for pathologizing women's things because they are women's things!

Katie Heaney

@blahstudent YES.


@blahstudent amen!

screwball cate

@Katie Heaney Ooh...so I can stop guilt tripping myself for the five minutes following every use of the word "like" in my speech? Gawd I give myself such a hard time over that! As if no one will take me seriously because I don't talk like a newscaster.


@blahstudent Thanks - you said this so eloquently. Yes, some of us have squeaky voices, and some of us ask questions when we shouldn't, and some of our voice creak and we all deserve to have these voices heard, not written off.

Cat named Virtute

@Katie Heaney I enjoy your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Right on!

Cat named Virtute

@julia right, but I think we have to look at the broader social context in which all that equivocating happens. Is it because people condition young women to constantly doubt themselves and the validity of their ideas? I think it might be! See also: ladies being socialized to feel like they can't hurt people's feelings ever, and all the tiptoeing that ensues.

@nyikin "We all deserve to have these voices heard, not written off." AMEN, sweet pinner!


@Marika Pea@twitter Yes, that is the point I was making. Or, the point related to my point that I do know about & understand. And resisting that takes work, just like quitting "like." But I agree with the instinct to bristle at studies focused on women's speaking style AND I agree that we shouldn't be wringing our hands over style as if there is a "correct" one. AND I greatly value the ability to use "like" for a certain hyperbolic effect, a la @Katie Heany. So I have two contradictory points of view (college girls: you fucking annoy me/talk how you want, women!) and I value them both.

all the kittens in the club gettin nipsy

@S. Elizabeth You guys, I really want to tell you all how awesome Language Log is for topics like this: the creak has always been around (posted just today!) debunking the gendered 'like' and debunking the idea that uptalk signifies passivity part one, part two.

In case you don't want to read all that, I'll summarize: all of these stereotyped-feminine speech thingys are done both by men and women... the best part is the debunking of the uptalk myth. Apparently, it usually signifies aggressive enforcement of social status, not passivity. Hence valley girls do it all the time not because they're dumb, but because they want you to know they are better than you.

Real life linguistic scholars pointing out that Handwringing Of The Day over How Young Women Talk Now is completely unfounded in actual science! Yay science! Go read anything tagged language and gender if you want more examples. Bonus language-nerd points, the tag prescriptivist poppycock.


@100kb i love language log! i started a facebook group called "descriptivists for favorite quotes" after facebook caved to prescriptivist howling and changed it to quotations.

sceps yarx

@100kb I love you for this post so much! So, so much! Like, hello, actual linguistic field observation?


@blahstudent Yes! It's not only women or young women who say like, or talk fast, or use hedges, or use uptalk. I'm not convinced that young men never ever do creaky voice either without further evidence. But it definitely carries different social meaning when young women do these things - gee, why is that?


@100kb <3! Other Hairpin linguists!

social theory

@koala @100kb also the paper on the uses of like! (romaine & lange, for starters)


@100kb Oh good! I am behind on my RSS feeds and hence two days late to this thread as usual. I ran down to the comments to post a link to that Language Log piece but am glad to see that you beat me to it. Yay other Linguistics people on The Hairpin!


great. ANOTHER thing? another thing that people have decided is "bad" that I may or may not do and I have to be neurotic about? awesome.


oh my goodness, I was just trying to listen to myself speak (weirdly hard?) and I think I do this! now I'm going to be obsessively tracking the fries in my voice. thanks, the hairpin!

New Hoarder

@kickupdust I think I do it when I am being sarcastic. Which is A Lot.

On the upside, I don't think? That I uptalk? Much?


Oh yeah! I did this for a long time. When I did a monologue to get from sophomore to junior year in theatre performance track it was written on my judging sheet from the vocal department director. She told me my mommy was a very bad lady for teaching me to talk that way. I'm fairly certain I don't do it anymore?

However, I am still trying to figure out how this article isn't about the Nasim Pedrad's Kim Kardashian voice. Because that's all I hear from these girls.


Ok, I'm going to rant. Full disclosure: I study syntax, not phonetics. But I'm required to take phonetics/phonology, so I'm going to put this knowledge to use (for once):

@social theory is right, it's called creaky voice. It was named "vocal fry" when prescriptivists started to notice it in young teenage girls. See how it all of a sudden has a negative connotation, just by changing its name? The fact is that most people end sentences this way if they were born in the 1980s or later, and it's not really a "regional" thing. Some researchers will tell you it's in the Northwest, this study says it's in NY State... that's because people do it everywhere!

It's not nearly as extreme as you think it is... laryngealization happens naturally for a lot of people when they end sentences. The clip that Edith linked to is an exaggerated example. Creakiness in "normal" speach is much less noticeable because we don't have voice distinctions for our vowels. So we can all stop freaking out about "vocal fry" now, because it's not vocal fry, it's creaky voice. And you probably do it.


@klemay Also, let's talk about how they took 34 female speakers and said this is A Thing Women Do in NY. They didn't analyze speech of any men, and they didn't say where any of the participants were from. WHY is this study getting attention?


@klemay YES. I originally read about this on Reddit and all the comments were like, ugh, ladies are so annoying right? EFF YOU dudes on Reddit. And also some of the ladies.


@klemay Thank you. These articles annoy me. So women are annoying when our voices are too high, and we're annoying when our voices are too low/gravelly. We can't win.


@PrettyNicola: I saw it there too! And all the dudes complaining! And then, in my head, I thought AND THAT'S WHY YOU'RE FOREVER ALONE ASSHOLES.


@klemay I'm not exactly sure why this specific study is getting so much attention, but it's not at all unusual for a study to focus on a very narrow population, and the article does note that previous studies have been done on both males and females. I also don't detect much of a judgey tone in the article itself, though comments elsewhere might give off that vibe. And I'm not totally sure why "vocal fry" sounds more negative that "creaky voice." If anything, to my reading, "creaky voice" sounds more negative than "vocal fry." I get that the study leaves much to be desired, but I'm just not feeling the hate here.

Barry Grant

Nice logical smack-down on pop science. Plus, what's the big freakin' deal? "Vocal fry" sounds sexy, same as Drew Barrymore's lisp.

all the kittens in the club gettin nipsy

@klemay Yes, thanks for bringing some actual science in! As I posted one second ago in the thread above, Language Log already has a takedown of this fluffy trend-piece.


@100kb Oh, how I love Language Log!


@Emby "Vocal fry" implies that something is being done to damage the vocal tract, where creaky voice is just a term used in phonetics to describe vowel quality (as opposed to modal, breathy, etc) in languages that differentiate.

This is just another example of the pathologization of the way women speak... It's a thing associated with all young people, but this study chose to record the speech of only women. So then of course they're able to say that it's a characteristic of the way women speak. I don't necessarily feel any hate coming from the study/artcile, but it's shitty science, which is annoying.

Sunny Schomaker

@100kb I scanned this today, frowned and said, "Hmmm, I doubt it." Then, I was catching up on The Log (I call it that, because we're tight), read LL's par-for-the-course takedown of crappy pop-science reporting and decided to come back here. And of course I could find my academic soul sisters here on The 'Pin. All's right with the world.

And @klemay, faux-linguistic shaming of groups is why I went into Applied Linguistics. If I had a dollar for every time I heard an argument about How People Talk that was secretly I Don't Like This Group, I wouldn't have to worry about getting a job once I'm out of grad school.


@klemay I was scrolling down to lend some sociophonetician perspective but you guys have it covered. Why is this little study blowing up? There are definitely other studies on creaky voice which actually bring social factors into it, and they are not all on young women (see Podesva's work on gay identity).

And the pathologization comments are spot on - see also the treatment of the gay "lisp" (it's not an impediment, it's a fronted /s/!) and any popular mention of African American language varieties ever.


@koala You probably would have spelled things correctly if you had gotten to it first. I use IT-mandated Internet Explorer. Boo.

@Sunny Schomaker I'm jealous that you are in grad school for linguistics! I am a mere undergrad with no foreseeable chance of being able to afford a master's program. Sigh.


@klemay I feel like Reddit is full of dudes who call themselves nice guys but bond over hating on women.


@koala could you link to any of these other studies? former sociolx student and a big homo with a serious creaky voice tendency, i'm super interested on this stuff and queer communites and ashamed i never read/thought about it before! would be really psyched to read some other stuff on this relating to identity and social context rather than pathologization of lady-talk.


@m clark Sure! Here is the Podesva study I had in mind: Phonation type as a stylistic variable: The use of falsetto in constructing a persona
His work is a little odd because they tend to be case studies focusing on one person at a time, but they are really interesting.

Creaky voice has also been noticed in Chicano English. Here's a new article on its use to construct a tough persona (sorry, you'll need library access to get it): The Semiotic Hitchhiker's Guide to Creaky Voice: Circulation and Gendered Hardcore in a Chicana/o Gang Persona I haven't had time yet to read it myself but Mendoza-Denton's stuff is great.


@koala By the way I know the Podesva title says it's about falsetto, but he argues that falsetto is used in conjunction with creaky voice to widen the pitch range.

social theory

@koala + everyone else, you pinners are awesome. thanks for being kindred spirits! also, accidentally commented up-thread before reading this. now i'm going to look at stuff on creaky voice in the queer community b/c i was just speculating based on experience, but now i'm on a tear.


My voice does this! It's kind of creaky and croaky and also nasal at the same time and I cringe every time I hear my voice recorded. It's not on purpose! I don't drink or smoke or anything, so apparently this is just what I get. I try to take heart in what Kathy Griffin says, about having an "annoying god-given voice" versus aspiring to an annoying voice via baby talk or whatever...but that doesn't mean that if I had the choice, I wouldn't trade my speaking/singing voice for someone else's. (My current choice is Ian Anderson.)


@figwiggin I would like MF Doom's speaking voice, please. And then, hmm, David Bowie's singing voice? Or Adele's? Ooh, no, I want this girl's voice (the first one). I am going full Ursula over here, I guess.


the britney thing is so accurate! i used to "apply this effect" when singing britney songs in my teenage karaoke days. i don't think it has crept into my normal speech though.

surely this is a result of women being repeatedly told that they need to lower their register to sound more grownup/professional AKA like men. i do sound like a child on the phone still. girly voice pride!

Whitmans Sampler

It could be worse. Everyone could be talking like Rachel Zoe.


@Whitmans Sampler I think they already do. Fast forward to 1:03 for my worst nightmare. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ51BNYXbV4

I went shopping this weekend and swear i walked into this same scene at a clothing store.

Whitmans Sampler

@LornaLoo Oh my god. You're right.


@LornaLoo ah LOL i just linked to this above. I love that scene.


Excuse my stumbling because I have no real vocabulary to describe this, but I think there's a difference between the kind of affectation you hear sometimes with creaky voice ("oh my gooo-creak-ood") and the actual creaking. I've heard plenty of people—men and women—creaking along when they speak without sounding like a "Valley Girl" stereotype.


So random, LOL, seriously? Really? It's like, whatevs.


I think the creaky-voice thing is actually kind of attractive? Not when it's clearly an affectation, maybe, but a bit of natural rasp is quite pleasant. I, on the other hand, have a nasal and high-pitched speaking voice that drives me insane. I recently heard some audio of myself speaking and was horrified. I sounded like Camille Paglia circa 1992.


@Decca I hate hearing myself talk. Hate it violently. (I mean, like, recorded, not from the inside of my own head, where I usually sound fine.) I sound so WEIRD.


Maybe we're just all trying to be Batman, ever think of THAT, study?


@Megan Patterson@facebook Fucking Batman. Get him to a speech pathologist.


I have heard this and done this and never thought about it as a... real thing; it just seems like a way to make a point or verbally express something about your mood or about what you are saying. I'm not sure I even understand how this is anything different than, say, using a certain voice when you're mocking something/someone.

What I do hate though is girls who say "thank you" like a squeaky "think yew" (a la Jennifer Love Hewitt) particularly, in my experience, when talking to waiters, clerks, some dude who holds open the door (generally men who aren't friends/BFs/coworkers). I don't know what this is or if anyone else has noticed it as a... phenomenon, I guess, but it's damn annoying (I mean, unless someone has an accent and regularly pronounces it this way -- that's fine).


But surely this is better than the tendency for raised intonation? If I'm not paying attention, I can often slip into a high-pitched lilt that is not nearly as cute as I think it is. :/


@D.@twitter I was just talking about that upthread a bit. @katy93 was kind enough to post this link: http://vimeo.com/3829682

And it pretty much sums up how I feel about this.

saul "the bear" berenson

OMG yes - ladies! Stop speaking on vocal fry! It's the same as the baby-voice thing, and when I was in school at Syracuse EVERYONE talked that way. Horrific to listen to, and disturbing as it takes away all the authenticity and vulnerability in anything you say when you say it in that voice. So you basically end up with a population of females who are talking without really speaking as themselves, UGH.


@Moxie the Maven ...really?


@Moxie Thank you, well said!

New Hoarder

I often have sinus infections and I am often sarcastic = creaky voice, and I am okay with that.

sceps yarx

It's interesting that the clip they chose was of a woman explaining about her experiences with sexism in her workplace. Like, maybe the creaky voice was emphasized because she was setting a tone of "just between you and me this is something that happens and it makes me feel a little vulnerable but I'm not freaking out or anything" Am I the only one who thinks it's disturbing to have a conversation with that sort of content held up as an example of an annoying voice?


If they came out with a study showing that the vast majority of young women in the United States enjoyed eating food and breathing oxygen, Reddit would get 800 comments saying, "Ugh, all the bitches in my school do that, it's so fucking annoying." There's nothing good or bad or right or wrong about vocal fry, it's just a particular way in which words come out of your mouth. The only reason it's pathologized is because young women and every single fucking thing they do, right down to the way they push oxygen through their vocal cords, is pathologized as well.

sceps yarx

Oooh, ooh, I have an idea! Let's all play in-group out-group games! Like Sneetches!

Judith Slutler

Soooo basically what I'm getting from this is that Americans are starting to speak from our throats like we are from Scandinavia / Germany?


My linguistics professor was just talking about this...she refers to it as "white girl speech." It's just one of those things people are doing...like how men in the 1940s spoke in a really nasal voice.

Lemon Juice

thank you! Sorority girls do this all the time. I used to say why and how do all these girls talk the exact same way. This mannish/valley girl way of speaking. Smoking? no. They all wear the same clothes, pick the same major, eat the same snacks out of tiny ziplock bags, and talk the same.


I wonder if women consciously/sub-consciously do this because they've had it beat into their brains that high-pitched, whiney voices are unattractive? So they try to lower the pitch and it ends up creaky, perhaps?

So we can't win.


I thought the uptalk trend would never end and it hasn't except there is another trend of sentences ending in a rasp. Documentary reality TV is rife with this especially those shows where the woman is shopping for a home or making a weighty financial decision. It's as if they, by talking in a normal tone for the first part of the statement, are conveying they are strong and independent and using an ending rasp is to show that they are also lovable, feminine, and vulnerable. It sounds self indulgent. Just when I thought Southern CA Valley "uptalk" (a question mark after every sentence) was ending I find it replaced by the end of sentence rasp. In many cases both uptalk and rasp are employed by the same person. I am reluctant to hire women with these bad vocal habits if the job requires talking to clients. (If interaction with clients is not required I just ignore the vocal habit.) These women should consider dropping these trends and speaking like women not girls. I believe these vocal habits are unique to North America because I haven't heard it overseas in other countries where English is used.


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