Whether you knew it had an actual name, you’ve definitely heard someone use vocal fry — and they likely didn’t know that when they were using it, it has some advantages.
Vocal fry is also known by other names:
This is an interesting explanation of what it sounds like, and why it doesn’t harm vocal chords. So why do so many people frown upon it?
Vocal fry sends a message.
It might come across as someone who is not putting a lot of energy into the speech, or someone who is lazy. The gravelly sound could even convey a lack of emotion or suppressed emotion — you know, trying to sound cool.
Here’s the thing, though. Speakers might not even be conscious that this why they are using vocal fry. The fact that they are sending a secondary message could be completely below their own level of consciousness.
Let’s say you’re in a job interview and don’t want to come across as being nervous. Vocal fry could give off the impression that you’re laid back, have a relaxed attitude, or simply are not being intimidated or stressed by the process.
Some people call it annoying.
It’s associated with millennials and younger women. And, not unlike old people telling the whippersnappers to Pull up your pants and take off that dang baseball cap, many older folks won’t hesitate to educate those who use vocal fry on how to break the habit.
“We have a joke among sociolinguists that we make: the only true linguistic universal is that older people are annoyed by the things younger people do when they’re talking,” laughs Lex Konnelly, a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Toronto who has worked on the phenomenon.
Truth is, men also use the technique, as do older people. We technically all do it when we run out of air at the end of an utterance.
Linguists say any extra layer of communication is always a good thing.
The expert opinion is that vocal fry isn’t inherently bad.
“I think it’s one of those innovative things about language that we use to communicate meaning above the level of our words,” Konnelly says.
People, of course, use language in all sorts of creative ways — choosing to have a creaky voice is just another part of the message we are sending our audience.
“In linguistics circles, we draw a distinction between prescriptive — which is telling people how to speak — and descriptive, which is talking about how people actually speak. And people actually use creaky voice,” Konnelly says. “And if people actually use it, as far as linguists are concerned, creaky voice is fantastic!”
Lay off. It’s effective.
Studies have proven that a female choosing to lower her register is a tool her brain is using to help send a message that she has qualities such as strength and control. And it works.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about vocal fry is that it’s bad — that it’s a vocal tick. Or that it’s something that doesn’t really have any meaning, it’s just some obnoxious thing that women or millennials do. In language, nothing is random. Nothing doesn’t have meaning. Nothing doesn’t have any social salience or significance to it.”
Konnelly urges people to “rag on it a bit less.”
Have more questions about when it’s appropriate to use vocal fry?
Let’s talk about it.