The great creak-off of 1969

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In a comment on yesterday's post about Noam Chomsky's use of creaky voice ("And we have a winner…", 7/26/2015), Tara wrote

At the risk of sounding like I missed the joke: creakiness in a speaker Chomsky's age is much more likely to be physiological in origin than stylistic. I checked older footage of Chomsky, and he does seem to have been quite a bit less creaky in the 60s than today. But more importantly, listen to William F. Buckley in the same recording! I suspect that Noam has been out-creaked.

Here's the recording in question:

And Noam Chomsky's Creakometer™ reading is indeed lower in this 1969 interview with William F. Buckley than it was in the 2005 interview with Ali G — 23.7% f0 estimates below the lower edge of his modal distribution, as opposed to 44.1%:

1969 Interview with WFB 2005 Interview with Ali G

And it's likely, as Tara says, that the main source of the difference is age.  But 23.7 is still a fairly high reading — there's plenty of creak/fry in Chomsky's 1969 voice, e.g.

Fundamentally there is no argument any more


(Sequence shown = "argument any more")

As for William F. Buckley, whether he "out-creaks Noam" is a matter of definition.  Only about 13.1% of his f0 estimates are below the lower edge of his modal range:

On the other hand, his modal pitch range is REALLY low — comparing quantiles:

His median f0 is about 78 Hz, which the lowest that I think I've ever seen, and thus quite a bit of his modal-voice f0 distribution sounds creaky:

This seems to be an important part of what people refer to as his "aristocratic drawl". Thus see Michelle Tsai, "Why Did William F. Buckley Jr. Talk Like That?", Slate 2/28/2008, or this American Dialect Society listserv note from Paul Johnston:

I used to do some research at Edinburgh with a colleague of mine, a voice quality expert, on the dialectal component of voice qualities, both phonation type (which creak falls under) and articulatory setting, trying to find constraints on phonemic inventory and sound change driven by one or the other kind of voice quality. One thing we found that most Americans have at least some degree of creak (as do upper-middle-class Edinburgh speakers). The degree varies, though. and besides nasality, the label of "Long Island lockjaw" suggests a close jaw articulatory setting on top of everything else, which is definitely not a common American trait.  That I do associate with upscale speakers from the East Coast of both sexes–if I try to do an accent typical of the (male) preppies I grew up with in New Jersey–kind of like a rhotic version of ex-governor Tom Kean or William F. Buckley–I automatically increase creak, close my jaw and retract my tongue to add a bit of pharyngealization. I don't do anything with nasality (and I'm quite DEnasal, though that can be perceived as nasal), but offhand, as a hypothesis, this is where the gender divide in upscale New Jersey creakers comes in. Female speakers have the nasality, males don't. Both sexes, though, seem to have the pharyngealization as part of the whole VQ complex. Midwesterners identify this setting as an "affected" voice, though I think there are native speakers with this setting, too.

So maybe the whole "young female creaky-voice thing", if it really exists, is just an extension of Larchmont Lockjaw? That would fit with the "City Girl Squawk" aspect of what Jason Horowitz called "The Affect" in a 2006 New York Observer story.


  1. sivilyslare said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 8:35 am

    Thank you so much for your response to my comment on "And we have a winner…"! It was quite insightful, both into modern stereotyping and a subtler kind of prejudice that I haven't been aware of until now. Once again, linguistics draws me closer, showing yet another one of its fascinating purposes.

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 9:31 am

    The google n-gram viewer seems to back up my own intuition that "Locust Valley Lockjaw" is a more common name for that now-archaic language variety than "Long Island Lockjaw," with "Larchmont Lockjaw" not even registering. Although the label is not nearly as old as the accent it describes — "Locust Valley Lockjaw" appears to have been popularized, if not coined, by Tom Wolfe's usage of it in a 1968 magazine piece doing some popular sociolinguistics ("You and Your Big Mouth: How the Honks and Wonks Reveal the Phonetic Truth about Status"). A potentially earlier reference to it appears to be in an Esquire article on John Lindsay's first mayoral campaign, the exact date and author of which is difficult to discern because of snippet-view limitations, although it's not inconceivable it was also by Wolfe.

  3. Rob P. said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 10:57 am

    The list of people who have been interviewed on tv by William F. Buckley and Ali G must be fairly short.

  4. Bloix said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 11:13 am

    Well, many people – e.g., me – absolutely hated listening to Buckley – that arrogant, condescending, look-down-the-nose, phony-stuttering twit. And maybe fry is part of the package.

  5. Guy said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 11:14 am

    Important question – is it /'kɹik.ə.mit.ɚ/ or /kɹik'ɑm.ət.ɚ/?

    [(myl) I'd use the second one.]

  6. AntC said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 4:11 pm

    Thank you Tara (and myl) for featuring that historical footage. Doesn't Chomsky look young! And yes, his voice quality seems less condescending than in recent years.

    But [BrE speaker here, who should be inured to that upper-class affectation amongst the self-appointed intelligentsia], I would willingly strangle Buckley with my bare hands for his arrogance and false intellectualism. I have seen his interviews before, and even trying to allow for the vintage, Buckley's voice quality is only a small part of what's wrong about him. Was America really suckered in for so many years?

    I guess that in the UK in that era we had satire like the Goon Show, Ealing comedies, endless BBC radio skits, Pete and Dud, and (later) Monty Python to take the p*** out of upper-class twits.

  7. peterv said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

    Rob P's comment reminds me of the fact that Bertrand Russell is the only person in history to have given lectures attended (on different occasions) by TS Eliot and Mao Tse Tung.

  8. GeorgeW said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 7:42 pm

    In spite of Buckley's affected speech and disagreeing with him on many issues, I must confess that I was a big fan of "Firing Line." He had a number of interesting guests and engaged in interesting discussions. At least to me.

  9. Alexander said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

    Is it a common, or perhaps even typical, that popularization of a prestige trait, linguistic or otherwise, is more often viewed as expressive of insecurity in women than in men? To me it seems that that happens often, and perhaps is happening here. To my ear, the creaky voice associated with the Kardashians sounds exactly like an affectation of Thurston Howell – or Buckley, whatever. And if it sounds that way to others, I can easily imagine that people regularly impute the affect to insecurity among young women, but just to either lassitude or poseurism among young men.

  10. AntC said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

    @Alexander, isn't lassitude or poseurism among young men also an affectation of insecurity?

    I haven't studied Buckley's intellectual chops in detail, but his snide style and nitpicking debating points with a lack of substance suggest to my ears — exactly — that he's adopting a prestige trait to cover his insecurity.

  11. Viseguy said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 9:40 pm

    @GeorgeW: "I was a big fan of 'Firing Line.'"

    So was I, in high school. One didn't have to agree with WFB to approach with joeoseness his artful decortication of his guests' asseverations. Especially if one was a sophomore.

  12. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 10:10 pm

    Just looking at Wikipedia's no doubt partial listing of "Notable people interviewed by Ali G" I see quite a number who undoubtedly also interacted socially/professionally with Buckley in various ways over the years (ranging from Newt Gingrich to Gore Vidal and all points in between), although I'm too lazy to find a list of "people interviewed by Buckley on TV" to see who's a perfect match. Of course a comprehensive list of "people by whom Noam Chomsky has been interviewed" would be very long, and I daresay Buckley/Ali G. would probably not be the most incongruous pair you could cherry-pick out of it. If you want to be sure of uniqueness in these A is the unique link between B and C situations, it helps to specify a more unusual type of linkage (and/or one that's easier to classify true/false rather than unknown). So, for example, I don't know what to make of the Bertrand Russell claim above because you'd have to know rather a lot (perhaps more than the possibly incomplete nature of the evidence might allow us to be sure of) about the lecture-attending lives of both Eliot and Mao to exclude all rival candidates, but by contrast I'm pretty comfortable supporting the claim that Jackie Fuchs a/k/a Fox is the only person in human history to have both been a law school classmate of Barack Obama and a bandmate of Joan Jett.

  13. Chris C. said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 10:11 pm

    I suspect George Zimmer, formerly of Men's Wearhouse, out-creaks them all.

  14. Tara said,

    July 28, 2015 @ 10:15 pm

    Amusingly, New York magazine has chosen this week to run a longform piece on William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal, and the glory days of the "celebrity intellectual":

  15. maidhc said,

    July 29, 2015 @ 4:55 am

    My father used to watch “Firing Line", but I was just a child and I think the program was past its peak years by that time. Still I remember it as being fairly entertaining.

    It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to view some of Buckley’s truly horrible pronouncements on the virtues of racial segregation.

    Yes, he did use having a prestige accent as one of the tools in his debating approach. I wonder if he was a pioneer in the "creaking = gravitas" school. More research is needed.

    I think one of the things Buckley developed was the idea of the "broadcast intellectual". He started out as an author but he was most known because of his television appearances. The previous generation of intellectuals, like say HL Mencken, were known more for their published writings.

    The whole concept of a public intellectual seems to have gone out the window in more recent years, so it's a bit like discussing steam locomotive enthusiasts.

  16. Rebecca said,

    July 29, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

    I love seeing this Firing Line clip. When I was a little kid, I'd watch the show with my mom. We were both fascinated with how he talked – in our little western Kansas town, it was like watching a National Geographic special. Then we'd try to imitate him, which consisted of lots of creak and that flash of smile and eye-pop at random moments that were neither funny nor surprising – just like he does here when he mentions Syntactic Structures(00:46). I doubt my 10 year old self sounded anything like him, but I sure enjoyed trying.

  17. Yakusa Cobb said,

    July 30, 2015 @ 7:10 pm

    The great creak-off of 1969? Heh!
    When the same year saw the release of the film version of Paint your wagon?
    Out-creak Lee Marvin, 'William F. Buckley'!

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