You may not be familiar with the term “vocal fry,” but if you’ve heard women from the ages of 13 to 35 or so speak recently, then you’re most likely acquainted with the phenomenon itself. Also known as “creaky voice” and “glottalization,” vocal fry refers to a speech pattern in which people lower their voices to a more guttural sound at the end of a sentence so that “interesting” sounds sort of like “interestaaang” or “awesome” sounds like “awe-suuhm.” Here’s a video of someone demonstrating vocal fry.
Often derided as an affectation, celebrities such as the Kardashians and the singer Kesha are regular practitioners of vocal fry. Although it’s practiced among both male and female speakers, vocal fry appears to be most commonly employed by young American women. And it could be holding them back in the job market, according to a new study published in peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.
Researchers from the University of Miami and Duke University recorded seven women between the ages of 19 and 27 and seven men between the ages of 20 and 30 saying the phrase “Thank you for considering me for this opportunity” in both their normal tone of voice and using vocal fry. Next, they had 800 study participants listen to five audio pairings and asked them to select people — the ones speaking normally and the ones using vocal fry — was the more educated, competent, trustworthy and attractive, based solely on the audio recording. When asked which of the pair they would hire, study participants chose the speaker with the normal voice 80 percent of the time. Participants also tended to judge female speakers exhibiting vocal fry more harshly — particularly when the listener was a woman, the study found.
Male recruiters and hiring managers should be aware of their perceived bias when interviewing female job applicants who use vocal fry in their speech, Casey A. Klofstad, one of the researchers, told CBS News. However, applicants themselves (ones who don’t have naturally low-pitched voices, that is) may want to avoid using vocal fry, he said. “Humans prefer vocal characteristics that are typical of population norms,” he said. “While strange-sounding voices might be more memorable because they are novel, humans find ‘average’ sounding voices to be more attractive.”
Interestingly, those “humans” may not include college-age humans, among whom studies have shown vocal fry to be both widely practiced and accepted. Approximately two-thirds of the college women observed by Long Island University speech scientist Nassima Abdelli-Beruh used vocal fry in their speech, according to Science magazine. When samples of a young woman’s speech employing vocal fry were played for students at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Iowa, students viewed the affectation as “a prestigious characteristic of contemporary female speech.” In an essay last year, Slate columnist Amanda Hess wrote that older men may find vocal fry objectionable because it represents a rejection of their own way of talking:
As women gain status and power in the professional world, young women may not be forced to carefully modify totally benign aspects of their behavior in order to be heard. Our speech may not yet be considered professional, but it’s on its way there.