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'Vocal Fry' Creeping Into US Speech 331

Posted by timothy
from the how-totally-bizarre dept.
sciencehabit writes "A curious vocal pattern has crept into the speech of young adult women who speak American English: low, creaky vibrations, also called vocal fry. Pop singers, such as Britney Spears, slip vocal fry into their music as a way to reach low notes and add style. Now, a new study of young women in New York state shows that the same guttural vibration — once considered a speech disorder — has become a language fad."
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'Vocal Fry' Creeping Into US Speech

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  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kelson (129150) * on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:45AM (#38325180) Homepage Journal

    The article isn't about old people being grumpy about the change, or about change in general. The article is about the change itself.

    "Language changes" isn't new, but "This language is changing in this way" is.

  • This too shall pass. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by olsmeister (1488789) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:47AM (#38325196)
    Remember the 'valley girl' speech pattern of the 80's? You don't really hear that much anymore. Humans of a common demographic need things like this to identify with each other and distinguish themselves from other groups. It's part of our social nature.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:15AM (#38325362)

    Now if only they learn to sing like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwANedEkqaY

  • Re:coming up next (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:32AM (#38325506) Homepage

    Next we'll be hearing autotune in everyday speech.

    Er, I'm not sure that I'd dismiss that possibility *entirely* out of hand. (*) While I'm not sure how Autotune (**) would translate to speech- since it's used for *singing*- the same could be said for this supposed "vocal fry", which started out as a singing technique, and I'm not sure how *that* got transferred to speech. Autotune is pretty damn common, so really, if vocal fry can make the jump, we shouldn't dismiss that Autotune might have *some* effect on speech, even if it's hindered by the fact that most people don't have a box of digital electronics in their voicebox. :-)

    Anyway, as for this "vocal fry's" *singing* origins- having checked out what they mean via YouTube- IMHO it sounds less like "a way to reach low notes" and more like what has *always* happened when people *can't* reach those low notes properly, i.e. "it's not shitty singing, it's a vocal technique".... Yeah, right!

    Not sure if I have any opinion about vocal fry as a speech pattern, as I haven't heard enough of it to figure out if it's an annoying affectation, just part of the natural mutation of language... or both. ;-)

    (*) Then again, what do I know. While I don't- or didn't- hate Autotune misuse (**) per se, as an interesting technique in itself (I've heard some quite good examples), my problem is its overuse *everywhere*. I got bored of it ages ago, and predicted the fad would have died at least a year ago now. Since this clearly hasn't happened, I've also considered the possibility that it may indicate a permanent change in music tastes- and, as if sods' law wanted to prove how out of touch I am- it will probably turn out to be a fad that goes massively out of fashion at some point after all. Or not- as I said, what do I know, I'm way too old for chart music anyway. :-)

    (**) As opposed to the original intended purpose of Autotune, which was to simply correct imperfections in singing. Ironically when people talk about "Autotune" now, it's usually to mean the deliberate misuse/overuse of it for effect- and not simple correction- because the latter is so prevalent (and the former should not stand out if done correctly).

  • This is new? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by haltline (125737) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:10AM (#38325760)

    I'm 53, I remember girls that sounded like this all my life. And I can jokingly say "For an example of vocal fry head on down to the casino and find an old lady by a slot machine". So, my personal life experience tells me there's nothing new here.

    Concerning the comments about people not using proper English: What is important is that words are used properly, that their meanings preserved so that communication can be meaningful. Confucius covered this long ago, [thinkexist.com]

    And, yeah, I was hoping for Futurama Fry too :)

  • "Throat creak" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kalvos (137750) <bathory@maltedmedia.com> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:32AM (#38325954) Homepage
    This was identified, defined and named as "throat creak" on alt.usage.english at least 10 years ago, including its first appearance in television commercials of the day.
  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fractoid (1076465) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:46AM (#38326108) Homepage
    There was an eloquent and impassioned talk given by Stephen Fry (in fact, one could argue it was Vocal, by Fry) that discussed this very thing. Here it is. [youtube.com] It's one of the few things that's transcended the "that's nice" and "oh, cool" barriers and actually changed the way I think about language. Anyone I work with can attest to the fact that I no longer correct "less problems" to "fewer", or "should of" to "should have".
  • by Surt (22457) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:55AM (#38326186) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, firefox needs to have a wider window between versions for plugins to catch up. To explain, the problem you are having is that some of your plugins (e.g. adobe pdf plugin) are not keeping up compatibility with the latest version of firefox, and are often lagging the release by 3-4 months, by which time people on auto-upgrade may have moved to yet the next version! This has put large numbers of people on semi-functional software, and is driving lots of people to chrome. You might almost believe that Google plants in the firefox development planning team were responsible, but that's impossible because it would be evil, and Google doesn't do any evil.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hey! (33014) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:16AM (#38326396) Homepage Journal

    I once worked with an Arab guy who grew up in the USA who went back to Bahrain for a year during high school. He went to an exclusive public school, and when his British educated teacher had him stand to read Shakespeare, after the teacher heard a few lines the teacher ordered him to sit down, saying, "your accent is offensive to my ears."

    The irony is that while North American and British English have diverged over the centuries, the accent in North America has changed far less, and thus remains closer to how Elizabethan English would have been spoken. In the eighteenth century, visitors to the American colonies remarked on how "correctly" English was spoken by all classes, even slaves. In the early 19th centuries the shifts in pronunciation which characterize "correct" ("Oxford" or "received") pronunciation were decried by language purists in England.

    I once read a complaint by an English reviewer of George C. Scott's performance as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol". The reviewer was put off by Scott's American accent. However if we take the story to occur around 1840, and Scrooge to be about 60 and not a native Londoner, the difference between Scrooge's accent and that of younger characters like Bob Cratchit would have been rather accurate.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MasaMuneCyrus (779918) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:45AM (#38326714)

    This. More specifically, I have heard that the "Southern Bell" accent is the closest accent to the original, proper 18th century English, and that "ain't" was a desirable word by the upper class.

    For those not familiar, the Southern Bell accent is the kind of accent you might here from upper class white folk in the Deep South. It's almost gone, now, but maybe still exists sparsely. Most commonly, you hear it in movies set in the old South.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @12:03PM (#38326934)

    I recall reading a piece by Michael Montgomery (the linguistics professor, not the football player) explaining that this has never actually been true.

    I believe it was in a book called "Language Myths", an interesting read if you're into that sort of thing.

    Disclaimer: IANALA (I am not a linguistic anthropologist)

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:06PM (#38328336)

    The irony is that while North American and British English have diverged over the centuries, the accent in North America has changed far less, and thus remains closer to how Elizabethan English would have been spoken.

    I've heard both sides of this argument. And since there's no way of comparing today's speech to that spoken in Elizabethan England, that may never be settled.

    But what we can do is to compare today's British and American speech patterns to those from the dawn of the sound recording age. Now, I can't speak for the British, but American accents have changed drastically. So unless something pulled our (American) accents back towards those of 17th century Britain, it doesn't seem likely.

    To confuse the issue further, the vocabulary and grammar that people use in many English speaking countries was that of the King James bible. One of the most widely circulated printed works in the world. And in many walks of life, one of the only things many people would ever read. So its possible that the grammatical adherence to this 'standard' of English might have something to say about various cultures exposure to newer and more varied written material.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hey! (33014) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:50PM (#38328794) Homepage Journal

    This isn't like speculating on the transition between Middle English and modern English. That happened in an era before printing or widespread literacy, and surviving documents from the 15th C are extremely rare. The split between British and American pronunciation started in the mid 1700s and went on through the mid 1800s. We have tons of evidence from the writings of contemporary observers about when and how the changes took place. I actually think that this evidence is *stronger* than the evidence from the early days of recording, since you had to speak in an unnatural cadence and loudness to be heard clearly, and it is highly likely that the pronunciation used was affected and exaggerated. I doubt Teddy Roosevelt talked to his family the way he sounds on recordings. Barack Obama sounds quite different giving a speech than giving an interview, so if you used his recorded speeches as evidence of how Americans normally talk you'd be led astray.

    So what were the complaints of the language purists of the early 1800s? Young Lord Byron was castigated by older critics for making rhymes that are now quite valid in modern RP but not in American English. Educated Britons complained of the loss of syllables in "necessary" and "secretary" ("neces-sree" and "secre-tree"), characterizing it as sloppy, lower-class speech. This process of the sloppy becoming the gold standard is still going on today. I suspect that in a hundred years' time Estuary English will supplant the Oxford/BBC/Received Pronunciation as the "correct" dialect.

    As for Shakespeare, one can use evidence like rhyme choices, but English poets of yore were rather loose with their interpretation of rhyme. I think it's fairly safe to say that nobody is walking around speaking *exactly* the dialect of 17th C. London. Both Standard American English and RP share a common root in 18th C. English, but RP is more different from the common ancestor dialect than SAE. Nonetheless it's a fair guess that both dialects would sound strange in Elizabethan ears.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Paul1969 (1976328) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @02:46AM (#38333100)

    This is typical of all emigrant populations. They tend to "freeze" their language in the form it had at the time of the main emigration. Thus Canadian French is very close to Seventeenth Century European French.
    Personal note: My family is of Finnish descent. All 4 grandparents were immigrants to the US. My parents are both fluent in the language of the "Old Country." I can only say a few basic phrases, but my kid sister made the effort to pick up a fair amount from our parents.
    When she made a trip to Finland a few years back, her speech caused some amusement to native Finns. They were surprised to hear a young woman talking like a "mummu" (grandmother).

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