VOCAL FRY: THE "EPIDEMIC" INFECTING YOUNG WOMEN
As part of my English Language A-Level, I have to write editorials for all of the different topics. To practice writing in an editorial style more, and practice writing about the content I am learning, I am going to be uploading different editorials as I progress through my course.
Another part of writing editorials is stating the intended audience. For this particular one, I wrote it as if I was writing for The Guardian, for people of any gender/sex, roughly aged 18 and above
Hope you enjoy!
VOCAL FRY: THE "EPIDEMIC" INFECTING YOUNG WOMEN
Are young women linguistic innovators or just annoying?
Today’s generation of young adults have access to virtually everything at the touch of a button, with social media dominating their ‘free time’ and exposure to various kinds of celebrities, it is no wonder that trends evolve and gain recognition at an exponential rate. However, are all of these ‘trends’ a good thing? Young people love to follow trends to appear ‘edgy’, ‘cool’, and to ‘fit in’, but the emergence of the “Vocal Fry” (especially in young females between the ages of 18 to 25) has been labelled “annoying”. It appears that the raspy, creaking tone isn’t achieving the desired effect of appearing sultry or more powerful against their male counterparts within society. This new craze has in fact been noticed by, and subsequently flustered, the rest of society; Times Magazine even devoted a whole column to the upcoming mannerisms!
A-List celebrities from Kim Kardashian, Zooey Deschanel and Scarlett Johansson to hit TV characters such as Marge Simpson are renowned for their “creaky voice” and raspy tones, now labelled as “Vocal Fry”. But what is this phenomenon and how is it used? “Vocal Fry” is a vocal effect that the speaker creates by producing short glottal stops followed by a long period where the vocal folds are completely abducted. This does not allow for the normal amount of breath to travel through your vocal chords to allow them to vibrate as normal, therefore instead creating the raspy, creaking sound. In short, your vocal chords usually are separated and have bountiful amounts of air flowing through them allowing them to rub together and vibrate causing your normal voice. “Vocal Fry” limits this amount of air, causing your ‘normal’ voice to transform into a lower register. This guttural growl at the back of the throat, within the lowest of the four vocal registers, can leave some girls sounding hoarse, as if she’s been screaming at a rave all night. Think Britney Spears singing “Oh baby, baby” in her hit song “Oops! … I Did It Again”.
Despite the criticism and backlash these young women face for simply changing their voice at the end of their utterances, why are they continuing to use it? Could it be perhaps that young women simply don’t care about other’s perceptions of them? Perhaps it’s a fight against the patriarchy? Or what if it runs deeper? Historically men have always dominated the world in a variety of microsomal spaces. From being the leaders and protectors in the Palaeolithic era (caveman), to being the only sex allowed to earn money of their own, vote and have free will. However, in the 21st Century, women in Western societies particularly have these same freedoms now granted to them, however they have centuries of male dominated spaces to compete with. With only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs being women (according to FTSE 100), it is no wonder that they have decided to take a different approach. By mimicking the deeper voice of males, perhaps women believe that this will make them appear more trustworthy, important and valuable. It was even recorded, by HCP Live, that men with a deeper voice pitch, on average, earn higher salaries and receive more promotions at work. How is this fair for a deeper voice to decide this? Shouldn’t men and women be given promotions and benefit based on their merit, not their voices? Shouldn’t females and males be treated as equals? Perhaps this is due to the ‘myths’ (as Deborah Cameron deems this theory in 2008) ingrained in society due to theories such as the Dominance Approach proposed by Fishman in 1970. Society has historically always favoured the patriarchy, and it was only in the last 50 years really that equal opportunities started to arise. Yet even with these opportunities, women were still treated as inferior, one only needs to look at how long it took to rectify the gender pay gap to see how men were still valued more than women, especially in the USA. The Dominance Approach signalled that men used language to assert their dominance and women had to conduct the ‘conversational shitwork’ in order to maintain conversation with males, and weren’t seen as equals within conversation or wider society due to this.
However, many people in power deem women who adopt this “Vocal Fry” to be untrustworthy, uneducated and unreliable. But how can this be true? Because despite the low percentage of female CEOs, in 2020 (according to FTSE 100) it was recorded that 87% of global mid-market companies now have at least 1 female in a senior management position; leading to women within these roles globally growing to 29%. Obviously, a women’s voice isn’t affecting her ability to thrive in the workplace or her intelligence.
Perhaps women use this to defy the, albeit outdated, deficit model proposed by linguist Robin Lakoff who states that language is created for men and defines women as the weaker sex. Although, despite abandoning the deficit theory, surely this proves the dominance approach as dubbed by linguist Pamela Fishman, stating that language is used by men to assert their dominance, and women are subordinate in language precedence. Wrong. It proves the dynamic approach that linguist Deborah Cameron suggests; female and male speech cannot be generalised because language is used to craft the identity that the speaker wishes to portray. Here, we are experiencing young women revolutionising the way the talk to dissociate themselves from the older generation who ridicule them for wanting to follow ‘trends’ they find exciting. Instead, young people want to diversify their identity and stray from the stereotypes and “myth-making” that the dominance and deficit theory alike forcefully push into society. Perhaps it is a conscious effort by young people to conduct Vocal Fry in attempts to separate themselves from the older generation. Or maybe, it could be a subconscious effort that parallels with other things young people do (e.g. creating new careers like social media influencing), to try and disassociate themselves with their elders.
It must be considered though, the fact that young women have always (and most likely will always) push linguistic change in a variety of different ways. Speaking on the Word of Mouth podcast, Dr Enam Al-Wer of Essex University found that in different Arabic dialects, there is convincing evidence that young women are the leaders of developing dialects and language. A study conducted in the city of Amman (the capital of Jordan) found that one sound that was changing was the sound “g” – the sound at the beginning of the English word good, or the end of leg – it was changing to a glottal stop – similar to those found in Yorkshire dialects. Women introduced this and once established as a feature in the local dialect, most women picked it up very fast and it started to spread. This sound is now perceived in Amman as feminine and soft due to the association of how women speak. Furthermore, in southern Saudi Arabia (bordering Yemen) in two small villages, a sound that has all but disappeared from Arabic dialect has been found and is an ancient sound called Proto-Semitic. It is noted to sound like Welsh dialect. This is likely to have evolved because women here aren’t free to travel on their own and are expected to be home makers, but do receive an education. Men are free to do whatever they like. Older women preserve the older way of speaking more than the men (the men travel a lot and are exposed to other dialects), and the younger women surpass in their use of newer features leading to evidence that men are up to a whole generation behind women in language development because the younger men haven’t followed the younger women yet. Perhaps this is their only freedom, and is used to express their possible ambition, some authority or perhaps rejection to the situation they find themselves in.
“Vocal Fry” has been around for a while – just look at Mae West in 1933 who played on it famously in the line “Why don’t you come up and see me” – and is now being popularised because of more celebrities using it, allowing it to gain linguistic currency. It is clear that social values become associated with linguistic features, normally reflecting attitudes towards people that speak that way – not the linguistic feature itself. In the 1950s it was giggling that was perceived as annoying by society but women used it because they felt it was attractive, the 1960s it was shrieking – especially around the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley – but the vocal fry was constantly coming in and out of fashion. It must also be noted that Nigerian dialects incorporate “Vocal Fry” as standard dialect, so are critics dubbing it as a “speech impediment” merely suggesting that the whole of the Nigerian nation receive speech therapy? Or is it just another way to criticise young women without receiving backlash?
Who knows? As men are behind up to a whole generation of linguistic features women introduce, perhaps soon your dad who cringes at the sound of Kim Kardashian’s voice will soon adopt the “Vocal Fry”. Maybe this is a trend that will fade in the upcoming years and be replaced, but can we as a modern society really dictate a woman’s knowledge, worth, and value just because of her vocal range? Or do you believe that the world would be better without the 'annoying' drone of “Vocal Fry” in young women?