A new speech phenomenon has recently been identified, especially among young women: vocal fry. Sometimes known as “Valley Girl” talk or “up talk” in popular culture, vocal fry could harm individuals in the professional world.
“Vocal fry is a type of voice usage that has a distinctive quality. It has a rough, creaky, gravelly sound that is produced when the vocal folds vibrate at a low rate in a syncopated rhythm,” said Linda Hoag, professor of communication sciences and disorders.
Vocal fry is most commonly heard in teenage girls, and is sometimes used as an attempt to fit in with a certain culture group. Just like other trends, vocal fry provides a way for individuals to feel more like the people they see on television (particularly reality). Research shows that vocal fry is a speech pattern that individuals choose to make and is not due to medical issues.
Hoag said that research is still being done on vocal fry and how it can affect people socially and physically.
“The research on long term use of vocal fry is not complete,” Hoag said.
Vocal fry originates from a music background. Today, it is most commonly heard in the styles of stars such as Britney Spears and Ke$ha. Creating the low, relaxed vibration of vocal chords makes for a sound that is distinctive.
The use of vocal fry does have a place in music, but only in certain circumstances, said Amy Rosine, vocal techniques instructor and vocal director for K-State musicals. Through the proper training and work, an individual can create vocal fry for a positive musical sound.
“Only if used within the premises of my voice studio, and as a means of achieving something healthy,” Rosine said. “However, it is not something I would use with every student.”
Unlike the potentially positive sound in music, the almost-nasally sound vocal fry produces when used in speech can lead to negative social consequences.
People may not even be aware that they are speaking in vocal fry tones, Rosine said.
“I asked one my students why she talks like that, and she didn’t even notice she was doing it,” Rosine said.
Vocal fry can potentially hurt future job opportunities said Olivia Law-Delrosso, director of the Professional Advantage program.
“It is important for students to learn to speak professionally,” Law-Delrosso said. “Using vocal fry, words such as ‘like’ or ‘um,’ and ‘valley girl’ speech patterns can be irritating and may cause an individual to appear unprofessional.”
When planning for an interview and preparing ideas to present, the way the project or image is presented can make a difference on the outcome.
“When an employee uses speech that is distracting, it will take away from their ideas and opinions,” Law-Delrosso said.
Regardless of whether vocal fry is just another trend or a generational way of speaking, it can be potentially be harmful to your voice and career. It doesn’t have to be permanent, and there are ways to eliminate vocal fry if it becomes undesirable.
“Making adjustments to your air intake so that you have enough to finish what you want to say will help you keep from drifting into a vocal fry,” Hoag said. “Adjusting your starting pitch a bit higher may also help.”