60-Second Mind

A Quirk of Speech May Become a New Vocal Style

What used to be thought of as a symptom of a speech disorder might now be a hot trend in vocal style among rock stars and young women. Christie Nicholson reports

A long-existing speech phenomenon has recently become a big thing among young women. Called vocal fry, it’s a low guttural vibration typically found at the end of sentences. You can hear it in this young reporter's voice. [Listen to podcast for audio sample.]

Vocal fry was often thought of as a symptom of a speech disorder. But scientists say they’re now hearing it commonly in pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears.


Recently speech scientists noticed an increase in vocal fry in female undergraduate students. To test their observation, they had 34 females read a piece of prose. And two thirds of the women demonstrated vocal fry. The study will be published in the Journal of Voice.


They also tested men and found no evidence of vocal fry. More research is required to see if this is truly a newfound fad among young women, since there have been no previous studies on the prevalence of vocal fry.


Right now they don't know why vocal fry appears to be catching on as a style of speech. But it's common for young women, and others, too, to imitate actresses, fellow peers, or high-status people.


At least this is a bit more bearable and sexy than other vocal trends like the uptick at the end of sentences.  


—Christie Nicholson


[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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