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How Vocal Fry Works

        Health | Nose & Throat

Who Fries?
You fry, I fry, everybody vocal fries -- but it's young women who are both on the forefront of this voice trend and who are most likely to be criticized for it.
You fry, I fry, everybody vocal fries -- but it's young women who are both on the forefront of this voice trend and who are most likely to be criticized for it.
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Young women, it goes without saying, stand accused of infecting modern speech with vocal fry. It goes without saying because young women are usually considered the guilty party when it comes to talking trends like, well, the overuse of "like" and the aforementioned apparent atrocity known as "upspeak."

The people most outraged by the fry are men of a certain age, one of whom, an NPR personality named Bob Garfield, has even called the phenomenon "repulsive" [source: Arana]. But some notable women have also weighed in. Author Naomi Wolf has called out young women for "disempowering" themselves with deleterious speech habits she says project uncertainty, weakness and low intelligence [source: Wolf].

Critics counter that older people just don't understand what these speech patterns signify to the people who are using them. Vocal fry sounds unpleasant and wrong to Garfield and Wolf because, as members of an older demographic, they've learned a set of rules about what constitutes "proper speech." Any deviation from those rules sounds wrong to them. What they don't realize is that younger women aren't just breaking the rules, they're changing them.

In any case, young women are hardly the only ones who fry. While some studies have shown that vocal fry occurs more often in women's speech, there's no shortage of examples of men who do it too [source: Lebowitz]. As others have pointed out, celebrated linguistics scholar Noam Chomsky — who is notably not a young woman — speaks in nothing but vocal fry, and while some quarrel with his politics, nobody has ever accused him of sounding dumb because of his voice.

On the other hand, we could flip the whole thing on its head and talk about where innovations in language originate. Guess what segment of the general population is the engine of change when it comes to words? Young women. A fascinating study from Finland shows that this isn't just a modern occurrence; it's been a force, at least in Western societies, for centuries [source: Thompson].

So while the old fogeys are digging in their heels, young women are making changes. There's no stopping them. Maybe that's exactly what language's evolution is all about — a protracted battle between the Guardians and the Girls.


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