Vocal fry: "creeping in" or "still here"?

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According to Marissa Fessenden, "'Vocal Fry' Creeping into U.S. Speech", Science Now 12/9/2011:

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.

This story has been picked up elsewhere, e.g. Cory Doctorow, "Deep-voiced 'vocal fry' thought to be creeping into American women's speech", BoingBoing 12/11/2011; Ben Flanagan, "Vocal Fry a new language fad mainly among college females", AI.com 12/12/2011; Meredith Engel, "Vocal fry: Your creaky throat noises are now an actual scientific trend", Jezebel 12/12/2011; "‘Vocal Fry’ Is the Hot New Linguistic Fad Among Women", Gawker 12/12/2011; Melissa Dahl, "More college women speak in creaks, thanks to pop stars", MSNBC 12/12/2011.

It's nice to see a piece of phonetics research getting this kind of play. But Fessenden's take on this story will be surprising to those who have looked at a few pitch contours — these "low creaky vibrations" have been  common since forever. And moderate use, especially at the ends of phrases, has never been considered a speech disorder.

Puzzlement increases after reading the cited paper.

The point of the paper (Lesley Wolk, Nassima B. Abdelli-Beruh, and Dianne Slavin, "Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers", Journal of Voice, in press) is to quantify how common this phenomenon is, in one particular population of young adult American women:

The purpose of this study was to examine the use of vocal fry in young adult Standard American-English (SAE) speakers. This was a preliminary attempt (1) to determine the prevalence of the use of this register in young adult college-aged American speakers and (2) to describe the acoustic characteristics of vocal fry in these speakers. Subjects were 34 female college students. They were native SAE speakers aged 18–25 years. Data collection procedures included high quality recordings of two speaking conditions, (1) sustained isolated vowel /a/ and (2) sentence reading task. Data analyses included both perceptual and acoustic evaluations. Results showed that approximately two-thirds of this population used vocal fry and that it was most likely to occur at the end of sentences. In addition, statistically significant differences between vocal fry and normal register were found for mean F0 minimum, F0 maximum, F0 range, and jitter local. Preliminary findings were taken to suggest that use of the vocal fry register may be common in some adult SAE speakers.

The research reported in this publication doesn't raise the issue of changes over time, or even of differences between males and females. In fact, the authors cite a couple of 40-year-old papers by Harry Hollien and others ("On the nature of vocal fry", J Speech Hear Res. 1966; "Vocal fry as a phonational register",  J Speech Hear Res. 1968) to the effect that "speakers without vocal pathology can selectively use glottal fry in connected speech".

In the Science Now article, Fessenden interviewed Pat Keating about this, and got a sensible answer:

Linguist Patricia Keating of the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees with Abdelli-Beruh's statement that creaking at the end of a sentence is normal for many speakers. "There are languages that use creak as part of the phonemic system," she says. "The chances of it leading to vocal damage are very minimal."

The small number of subjects and the limited geographic focus of the study make these findings very specific, Keating says. But she notes that speech researchers suspect the vibrational trend is widespread in the United States. "I think there are generational differences," she says. "But it is common to mark the end of sentences [with vocal fry]. If the pitch falls, you get creak."

A similarly sensible perspective is presented in a quote from one of the study's authors:

More than two-thirds of the research subjects used vocal fry during their readings, the researchers will report in a future issue of the Journal of Voice. The distinct vibrations weren't continuous. Rather, they arose most often at the ends of sentences. The patterns were "normal" variations, says co-author and speech scientist Nassima Abdelli-Beruh of LIU, because the women rarely slipped into vocal fry during sustained vowel tests—prolonged holding of vowels such as 'aaa' and 'ooo'—a classic way to assess voice quality and probe for possible disorders.

The anecdotal phonetic folk-wisdom about this phenomenon agrees that it's commoner (or at least more salient) among women than among men, and may be commoner among younger speakers.  So it's entirely reasonable that Wolk et al. report some unpublished evidence on differences between female and male students, and that they plan to study changes over time:

The study is the first to quantify the prevalence of vocal fry in normal speech, although other researchers have noted the pattern. The group is also the first to verify that American women are much more likely to exhibit the behavior than men, as its yet-unpublished data show that male college-age students don't use the creaky voice. The team's next steps will attempt to find out when this habit started—and if it is indeed a budding trend.

But it's important to keep in mind that this kind of irregular or chaotic oscillation is a more-or-less inevitable feature of physical systems like those involved in human voiced speech (see e.g. Jiang and Zhang, "Chaotic vibration induced by turbulent noise in a two-mass model of vocal folds", J. Acoust. Soc. Am. Volume 112(5) 2002). So I'd be very surprised to learn that there are any speech communities where vocal fry is not sometimes found in normal, non-pathological speech patterns — and especially in low-frequency regions at the end of phrases, where the controlling parameters of vocal-cord tension and subglottal pressure are changing rapidly.

As a small piece of evidence that this phenomenon has been common in American speech for some time, I took a look at a few sentences from the "TIMIT Acoustic-Phonetic Continuous Speech Corpus", recorded in 1986. This collection includes sentences read by 630 male and female speakers from 8 major dialect regions of the U.S. One of the two "calibration sentences" read by all 630 speakers was  "She had your dark suit in greasy wash water all year".

The very first female speaker (according to the collating order of the speech-file pathnames — TEST/DR1/FAKS0/SA1.wav, if you're following along at home) shows clear vocal fry at the end of this calibration sentence:

(The display above shows the waveform and spectrogram for the final word "year".)

This woman was born in 1957.

I had to look at four male speakers' readings of this same sentence to find an equally-clear example of phrase-final irregular voicing (TEST/DR1/MRJO0/SA1.wav):

This man was born in 1951.

I don't have time to do a fuller examination this morning, but this tiny bit of evidence is certainly consistent with the traditional view that vocal fry has long been a common feature of sentence-final low pitches in American English, and that it's commoner among female speakers than among male speakers. Whether there's a generational effect (which could be due to life-cycle effects or to  some overall cultural change) remains to be seen.

It may well be true that there's cultural variation in the prevalence of vocal fry —  certainly there are languages where the related phenomenon of "creaky voice" is phonemic, as Pat Keating observed. There's plenty of evidence out there to look at, in the form of recordings across time and space, and I look forward to seeing the results when they emerge.

It's too bad, though, that Science Now wrote the story as if this research had already been done!

Update — Some evidence of culturally-modulated deployment of creaky voice can be found in Carmen Fought's 2003 book Chicano English in Context (p. 78):

A final suprasegmental feature that is very characteristic of CE speakers in the Los Angeles community is creaky voice. This feature seems clearly to be an example of something that comes out of contact with the local Anglo dialect, where creaky voice is extremely prominent. […] Helena, a young Anglo speaker that I interviewed, seems to end almost every sentence with a stretch of extreme creaky voice. […] The CE speakers use this feature very frequently as well. Though I found it among male and female speakers, it seems to be more common for women, both among Anglo and Latina speakers. Interestingly, Fernanda, one of the older speakers in the sample (she is 53), uses creaky voice frequently, which suggests that it is not necessarily a recent development in Chicano English.

Carmen gives a passage from a narrative (by "Veronica") with the creaky-voice regions italicized. She notes that the meaning of this feature is by no means clear:

Although Laver states the 'used throughout an utterance, creaky voice signals vored resignation, in the paralinguistic conventions of English' (1980:126), in CE and probably also in California Anglo English, its meaning seems more complicated. For example, in Veronica's story, the very last thing indicated by I was like, real scared would be boredom.

Norma Mendoza-Denton ("The Semiotic Hitchhiker's Guide to Creaky Voice: Circulation and Gendered Hardcore in a Chicana/o Gang Persona", Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21(2), December 2011) comments on some apparent further developments:

I show how creaky voice, a type of nonmodal phonation, becomes enregistered within an early narrative context, and is then catapulted by centrifugal media forces, taken as part of a constellation of features that cluster around the persona of “hardcore Chicano gangster.” […] I also analyze a media-based data set that includes songs about cholos by a Chicano hip hop artist, web-based text and video tutorials on how to act like a cholo, and a representation of a Chicano gangster in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Creaky voice […] has no referential meaning, no continuous segmentability, and no relative presuppositional qualities vis-à-vis its context of use. Most critically, it can't even be pronounced in isolation. Indeed, when directly questioned, users had a difficult time identifying creaky voice to comment on it (“What are you talking about?” was the response I got more than once from gang girls who were users of this speech modality, with no further elaboration or response whether I described or enacted creaky voice); speakers preferred instead to comment on the phonetic, lexical and discourse elements onto which creaky voice was necessarily docked.

You can hear some of (what I think is) that stereotypical voice quality in the title song of Cheech Marin's 1987 movie Born in East LA:

I don't think this is the same thing as the phrase-final irregular long-period pitch pulses that Wolk et al. are talking about, however.

But Mae West's famous "Why don't you come up some time, see me?" has definitely got some of the Wolk et al. phonation at the end of "me":

Update — A list of posts on vocal creak and fry:

"The Affect: Sociolinguistic speculation at the NYO", 3/22/2006
"Further thoughts on 'The Affect'", 3/22/2006
"Vocal fry: 'creeping in' or 'still here'?", 12/12/2011
"More on 'vocal fry'", 12/18/2011
"Sexy baby vocal virus", 8/15/2013
"Biology, sex, culture, and pitch", 8/16/2013
"Restless creak", 2/3/2014
"New vocal fry culprit", 6/18/2014
"Vocal fry probably doesn't harm your career prospects", 6/7/2014
"Real fry", 6/19/2014
"Freedom fries", 2/3/2015
"You want fries with that?", 2/3/2015
"Sarah Koenig", 2/5/2015
"Vocal creak and fry, exemplified", 2/7/2015
"Effects of vocal fry on pitch perception", 3/5/2015
"Male vocal fry", 7/23/2015
"Pinker peace creak", 7/24/2015
"More Pinker peace creak", 7/25/2015
"And we have a winner…", 7/27/2015
"The great creak-off of 1969", 7/28/2015
"What does 'vocal fry' mean?", 8/20/2015



  1. Eric P Smith said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

    What is the difference between vocal fry and creaky voice please? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creaky_voice treats the terms as synonymous.

    [(myl) There's a range of somewhat different phenomena, each of which can be present to varying degrees in varying circumstances; and then there's a range of different terms, which include not only "vocal fry" and "creaky voice" but also "glottal fry", "laryngealization", "irregular voicing", "glottalization", "diplophonia", "subharmonics", and so on. The terms "vocal fry" and "creaky voice" or "creak" are often treated as synonymous, but "vocal fry" tends to be limited to the case of irregular long-period vocalization where the individual glottal pulses can be resolved in time by the ear, sounding somewhat like the irregular pop-pop at the start of frying, whereas "creak(y voice)" can be used to refer to an unusually low-frequency but still quasi-periodic mode of phonation. Thus Catford ("Phonation Types", in In Honour of Daniel Jones, 1964) compares creaky voice to “a series of rapid taps, like a stick being run along a railing”. Also, "creak(y voice)" is used to describe a phonemically marked phonation type (of certain vowel or of whole stretches of speech), whereas I've never heard "vocal fry" used in that way.]

  2. Amy Parker said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    Thanks to Boing Boing, the creaky voice story is now going viral. The Rachel Maddow Show's blog just named it story the "Best noon thing" and included a video of stereotypical California girl du jour, Kim Kardashian, as an example: http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/12/9391311-best-noon-thing.

    Let's hope this story isn't on its way to becoming the "science proves women talk more than men" of 2011.

  3. jc said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    After reading a few discussions of this in the past couple of days in places like slashdot, I was wondering when it'd pop up in LL. At first, I had a bit of trouble spotting what they were talking about. The reason became clear when I read some articles on the topic, and ran across comments that the effect is most noticeable in the US's Northwest area (northern California to British Columbia). I grew up mostly around Seattle, so presumably it just sounds normal to me. Since then, I've listened to myself a bit, and found that I use it occasionally. Contrary to the claims that it's mostly spreading among younger females, I'm male and was born in 1944. I remember a couple of linguistics courses in the 1960s, where the instructor pointed me out as one of the students who use "creak" in our normal speech. This was at the U of Wisconsin, and the instructors correctly classified my dialect as West Coast (though most of them couldn't pin it down finer than that).

  4. Bob Moore said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    I first heard this pointed out a couple of years ago under the term "creaky voice," and immediately began noticing it in the speech of younger residents or natives of the Pacific Northwest and California. There are some prominent younger members of the computational linguistics research community who talk this way very frequently, one of whom I heard give an entire 20-minute conference presentation in "creaky voice."

  5. Geoff Nathan said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

    Err… Isn't it the case that Mark said we didn't actually know that it was currently spreading. I certainly hear lots of it here in Detroit (not exactly West Coast), and I've been aware of it as long as I've known what it was (which is more years than I care to admit, having studied phonetics with Hank Rogers and Chin-Wu Kim in the late sixties and early seventies).

  6. Rubrick said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    I hope the story has enough traction that Stephen Fry comments on it, and that his remarks are seen as themselves newsworthy, thus providing the potential for one hell of a crash blossom.

  7. nbenko said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    Country crooner Conway Twitty used vocal fry to quite successful results in many of his recordings in the 60s and 70s. Adds an impassioned strain to his voice that works especially good with lyrics like "What am I livin' for, if not for you?"

  8. mgh said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    is this part of what you wrote about previously re: Jill Abramson?

    10/18/11 Jill Abramson's voice
    10/21/11 Jill Abramson's voice: difference tones?

    [(myl) Some of her long, low-pitched phrase-final stretches break into clear irregular low-pitched voicing, of a kind that I would certain call "vocal fry", as here in a phrase-final pronunciation of "schoolkid":


    So yes.]

  9. Nathan Myers said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    I hear it a lot on NPR, voiced by interviewers. They seem to use it to suggest intimacy.

  10. Erik Singer said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

    For what it's worth, some theatre voice & speech teachers make a distinction between (glottal) fry & creaky voice that has to do with excess laryngeal tension & breath support. Fry is marked by more of the former and less of the latter. I don't know how well this syncs up with prevailing linguistic usage, though I'd like to.

    Fry is definitely taught as something to be avoided, especially when a speaker is attempting to fill a large space with her voice, whereas creak & creaky voice are basically harmless and are fun to experiment with. Dudley Knight even teaches that ingressive creak can help release residual laryngeal tension.

  11. Rod Johnson said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

    I never noticed it before (and I'm around lots of 18-21 people), but I played the Kardashian video and immediately recognized it. I played it for my daughter (16) and said, "oh yeah, that. Yeah, I hear that a lot. It's when the pitch of your voice goes down at the ends of sentences." I asked if she did it, an she said "I don't know." Which I guess indicates that it's a pretty automatic feature and not especially meaningful. I've recruited her to make some observations at her high school.

    It feels to me, though, as if it's part of a more general style of speaking with restricted airflow that some girls (and I agree, it's girls). I don't know how to characterize that better–I'll pay attention now.

  12. Eric P Smith said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

    Mark: many thanks for answering my question on the difference between vocal fry and creaky voice.

  13. Nathan said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

    Vocal Fry would be a great band name.

  14. oops, was that my out loud voice? said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

    West Coast thing, Cheech Marin… yes kids it's a stoner thing, it comes from holding both a conversation and a lungful of smoke at the same time. Not in all cases I'm sure, people are very imitative, but as a general vocal habit, I know where that came from, I went to college. Someone has to say it out loud, I'm too amused to resist the temptation. I don't mean to trivialize it, I love the article, I just also recognize that sound and have to laugh. "Vocal fry" forsooth. Of course it is. :-) Yes, it would be a great band name.

  15. chh said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

    "its yet-unpublished data show that male college-age students don't use the creaky voice."

    I don't know what the original authors actually said to the reporter, but this is one of those cases where it looks like a reporter accidentally made a much stronger claim than was appropriate. I was looking for a nice example to link to of a college age (ish) male exhibiting vocal fry. This here's the first one I found, in case anyone else was searching (someone correct me if I'm wrong). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmW23BbyJzI

    First I thought of Phil Hartman, but he's the wrong age. Then Justin Bieber, but I couldn't catch him doing it. So this is Ezra Koenig, whose vocal fry I remembered from knowing him in college.

  16. Fluffy said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

    Two points:

    1) I don't know why the researchers felt obliged to speculate about things outside the narrow scope of their study, but the following assertion about Public Radio is very likely false:

    "[Abdelli-Beruh] says that the popular-music station on her teenage son's dial features creaky announcers, but she does not hear vocal fry on National Public Radio, which targets an older audience."

    Now compare that with the following Peever/Hater post, which explicitly calls out NPR several times:


    (I don't agree with the value judgments, but I completely buy the observation that creaky voice can indeed be heard on NPR.)

    2) Related, and perhaps closer to other recent topics: Why all the peeving/hate? That "squibbage" link is one big bag of hate, prejudice, and bigotry of various sorts. In my limited experience, there are not many other linguistic phenomena that trigger reactions on the same scale. (You know what they are, I won't mention them here.)

  17. Michael Riley said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

    Started noticing an increase in this about a 5 years ago. Now it is quite prevalent in NYC and is often very marked. Sat next to a young woman in a restaurant Saturday whose voice elicited a "there's 'That Voice' again" from my dinner companion.

  18. Joyce Melton said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 2:33 am

    Speculatively, without research to back it up, here is a possible explanation for the phenomenon based on personal observation without real science:

    American women, especially young women, tend to speak artificially in the upper parts of their natural range. Their voice sounds more feminine that way, they apparently think. As a consequence of this artificiality, when they near the end of a phrase that is falling in pitch, many times they cross one of the boundaries of speech modes and are left without enough control or support for adequate intonation; hence, vocal fry.

    On the other end, many American men try to speak in the lower parts of their comfortable register for the opposite reason. Again, they can cross a speech mode boundary resulting in vocal fry.

    It is both cultural and physiological. Many women are high altos, trying to speak as sopranos. Some men are low tenors, trying to speak as basses.

  19. maidhc said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 2:56 am

    Is Clarence "Frogman" Henry the pop star who's responsible for all this?

  20. Lach-cl said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 3:15 am

    The vocal fry technique has been used in metal genres and sub-genres for years. When done with more emphasis and volume, it is known as "screaming vocals", the very basis for many bands and genres of music (see: Whitechapel, Killwhitneydead), it is also used by Baritones such as myself to go down those few extra octaves to reach the Basso Profondo vocal register and style.

    [(myl) I assume that you mean this sort of thing, which is a very different phenomenon from what Wolk et al. are referring to. It shares a property — namely irregular voicing — but the mechanisms as well as the perceptual effect are quite different.]

  21. J said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    Watch "Ugly Betty": Both Amanda and Mark talk this way.

  22. Martin J Ball said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    @Joyce Melton
    This may well be an explanation, but it certainly chimes with what some of my colleagues have termed the "squeak-creak" in female American speech.

  23. Ken C. said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    Airline pilots stereotypically talk to passengers mostly in vocal fry (or is it creaky voice?).

  24. marc said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    I've noticed this in the speech of Finnish women. It seems like that at the end of an utterance their voice drops below their natural register, creating this type of fry. Here's an example.


  25. ecleclecl said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 11:24 am

    After reading the Boing Boing link I noticed my 8-year-old doing it at the end of pretty much every sentence. Maybe not questions…?

  26. Eric P Smith said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    @Joyce Melton

    My speculation is the exact opposite of yours! I wasn’t going to air it here, but, encouraged by your post, here goes. Like you, I have no research to back up my speculation.

    My perception is that the voices of women (both American and British) have tended to lower in pitch over my lifetime (62 years). Nowadays women tend to speak towards the lower end of their physiological range. The change is cultural. Perhaps they (or their hearers of either gender) perceive the voices as more authoritative and/or more sexy that way. It is because of this lowering of pitch that the speech mode boundary is crossed more often, hence vocal fry.

    I would be fascinated to learn of any research. Can anyone help?

    [(myl) There's a bit of evidence from a Breakfast Experiment™ here that American women use a pitch range a couple of semitones (about 10%) lower than Japanese women, whereas American men's pitch range is a similar amount higher than the pitch range of Japanese men. I assume that this effect (greater sex polarization of voice pitch among Japanese), if real, is cultural rather than biological.

    If you can find some recordings of American women (and/or men) speaking in comparable situations over the past half century, it would be easy enough to do a similar comparison.

    The "comparable situations" part would be both critical and difficult, because small differences in setting (amount of background noise, distance from interlocutor, etc.) can have large effects on vocal effort and thus pitch range. Also, there's a great deal of individual variation, so you'd need a fairly large sample of speakers.]

  27. Lisa Davidson said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    People interested in more research on where non-modal phonation in occurs in English speech should take a look at Melissa Epstein's 2002 UCLA dissertation "Voice Quality and Prosody in English".


  28. TB said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

    So the opposite (sort of?) of uptalking is now an offense too. How surprising that young women are the target of yet another bullshit peeve.

  29. John said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

    I'd be interested in some clear examples of this I can listen to.

  30. Joyce Melton said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

    @Eric P Smith. American women, yes, perhaps. Young American women, not so much. The young ones still seem to be trying to sound squeaky to me. But what do I know, I'm 63 and a natural contralto. If I try to speak in a soprano range, almost all of it is squeaky-creaky.

  31. Vocal Fry | Dialect Blog said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    […] Most importantly, this in-depth analysis from the always-astute Mark Liberman of Language Log. […]

  32. Nathan Myers said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 2:13 am

    Does this clip demonstrate vocal fry, or creaking, or both?


  33. Cy said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    I suppose this post is a little off-topic (and surely buried!), but the amount of research and writing that ML puts into these little things that he just shoots off in the mornings (presumably over a quick cup of coffee and maybe some toast) easily trumps the output of most individual human workweeks. I love how there's always a sentence where he apologizes about not being more thorough. It reminds me of Back To The Future, where the doctor apologizes that his quick mockup of the whole downtown isn't painted or scaled 100% or something. Love it!

  34. Rod Johnson said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

    Joyce, my intuition is also the opposite of yours. Observing my daughter and her friends (who are mostly theater kids, with an unknown impact on the hypothesis), I feel their pitch is more markedly low than high. I asked my daughter directly, and got one of those looks, and "NO, we don't speak high, Dad." I admit, a teenager's disdain probably shouldn't be taken as probative. :)

  35. Russell said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

    When I first saw the stories about vocal fry, the first thing that came to my mind was this study, which I heard a preliminary report on last year.

    Ikuko Patricia Yuasa, Creaky voice: A new feminine voice quality for young urban-oriented upwardly mobile American women? American Speech, Fall 2010 85(3): 315-337

    An examination of creaky voice occurring in natural conversations among relatively young educated American and Japanese speakers revealed that female speakers of American English residing in California employed creaky voice much more frequently than comparable American male and Japanese female speakers. Previously, creaky voice was interpreted as a voice quality of masculinity or authority. Moreover, a matched-guise perception survey indicates that college-age Americans residing in two contrasting regions, northern California and eastern Iowa, perceive female creaky voice as hesitant, nonaggressive, and informal but also educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile. The sociocultural meanings indexed through this voice quality may have been reinterpreted recently as a new type of female voice in America. In addition, these American listeners reported frequent creaky voice usage by women in both regions. Creaky voice as a new type of female voice quality may also be becoming a conspicuous part of relatively young American women's unconscious (linguistic) performance. This investigation constitutes an exploratory study that stimulates and encourages new research on sociocultural usage of female creaky voice from various perspectives.

    [(myl) A great reference! … which is not in the bibliography of the Wolk et al. paper, oddly enough…]

  36. Pera D. said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

    I just can't leave out the all-time example of sung vocal fry: The 70s single "Pillow Talk" by Sylvia Robinson. I think what she's doing ought to be called vocal scorch!

  37. Get Your Creak On: Is ‘Vocal Fry’ a Female Fad? | TIME Healthland | TIME.com said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 7:41 am

    […] being falsetto at the high end, and modal, which is the normal speaking register. As one linguist put it, vocal fry has been commonly identified in speech "since forever" (in some languages, […]

  38. Elena Wordsworth said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 9:41 am

    My niece from Wisconsin, since she was young, has used vocal fry in a large majority of her conversation. I thought it very well conveyed her sense of boredom, above it all, cynical attitude. It was unattractive in her as a young girl, and as an educated young woman, I find it particularly disturbing as I feel it detracts from the projection of maturity that she should be acquiring at this stage of her life. The deeper question I wonder about vocal fry is whether it is merely a "sound" that creates that group belonging, or if it actually promotes and enforces those attitudes of youth that you would hope would be outgrown in an adult.

  39. News: Are “creaking” pop stars changing how young women speak? | News 25/7! Delivering news in real time said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    […] director of the linguistic data consortium at the University of Pennsylvania wrote on the "Language Log" blog. "This tiny bit of evidence is certainly consistent with the traditional view that vocal fry […]

  40. Joy said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

    it's like when pinky of pinky and the brain says: naaarf. … right?

  41. Eric Baković said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    Picked up by the Today Show:

  42. Get Your Creak On: Is ‘Vocal Fry’ a Female Fad? | Life is... said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

    […] being falsetto at the high end, and modal, which is the normal speaking register. As one linguist put it, vocal fry has been commonly identified in speech “since forever” (in some languages, it’s a […]

  43. Get Your Creak On: Is ‘Vocal Fry’ a Female Fad? | RESIDE San Francisco said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

    […] being falsetto at the high end, and modal, which is the normal speaking register. As one linguist put it, vocal fry has been commonly identified in speech “since forever” (in some languages, it’s a […]

  44. Jess said,

    December 15, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

    Thank you for this article. I've been hearing about this in the news lately and I'm only a undergrad linguistics student but I knew something wasn't right. Just strange sensationalist news spurred by the popularity of strange new pop stars.

  45. me said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    In tacoma in high school I noticed that creaky voice was often used in the middle of sentences when there speaker was uncertain. "well…" was very often creaked.

  46. What “Vocal Fry” tells us about media science reporting » No measure of health said,

    December 19, 2011 @ 12:41 am

    […] I learned from that article, and the Language Log post it linked to, was that about the only thing the previous reports got right was that there is a […]

  47. Sooo Bored With Twenty Somethings! said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    @Elena Wordsworth, your post hits the point exactly. The conscious and minor use of vocal fry has existed in the USA for years (Mae West example demonstrates this.) But the overuse of it among late teen and twenty something females portrays boredom with everyone and everything they are in contact with. Kim Kardashian's attitude portrays herself as the center of the universe and all others are annoyances to be barely tolerated.

    Sadly it is damaging the reputation of otherwise capable women as they reach important career milestones in academia and/or careers.

    I for one, can't wait for the Kardashians and their like (celebrities for celebrity sake) disappear from the American consciousness,

    [(myl) You have a right to your feelings, of course, but you don't have a right to your own facts. So far, the only evidence in favor of increasing "overuse among late teen and twenty something females" is an anecdotal impression, mostly on the part of people like you who have a negative reaction to the women in question. These anecdotal stereotypes very often turn out to be completely false, especially when they're linked to groups defined by emotionally freighted categories like race, sex, class, and/or age — one good example is the widespread belief that women talk much more than men do, and there are many others.

    So you might be right about the increasing overuse, but you also might be completely wrong.

    In addition, it's far from clear that the meaning of this vocal register is "boredom". If it's something that people turn on and off, or use to different degrees, then this hypothesis is also subject to test. And again, such hypotheses often turn out to be wrong, for example the impression that "uptalk" indicates self-doubt.

    So it would be nice to know what the facts are about both of these things, especially since your impressions form part of a moral evaluation of a large group of people.]

  48. David Crystal said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 4:00 am

    'Creak' is one of the paralinguistic features listed in the analysis by David Crystal and Randolph Quirk, 'Systems of Prosodic and Paralinguistic Features in English'. That was 1964. The feature has been around a long time, and in the corpus we studied then was by no means restricted to women.

    [(myl) Thanks for the corpus-related citation! More anecdotal observations go back even earlier, e.g. to John Firth, The Tongues of Men (1937):

    In England breathy voice and creaky voice are not associated with differences between words but with different social types and also with different social attitudes. The breathy oh! and oo! is coupled with a very different bodily and social attitude from the creaky oh! or oo! We may call this the phonation difference.


  49. G D Milner said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 11:19 am

    I remember Snagglepuss cartoons as a kid in which that "hep cat" himself seemed to exhibit this voice pattern.

  50. Would You Like Fries With That? | RegenAxe said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

    […] akin to valley girl up speak. Pushback was quick and forceful. Another great podcast steer, the Language Log does it best. True, Brittany Spears affect this speech pattern, but so did Mae West. When did […]

  51. Steve said,

    December 22, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    Very much enjoying this thread, but…

    Seems to me that 'vocal fry' could also be used to refer to the hullabaloo in the media and culture (my god, more than fifty comments on this post alone!) over something that is interesting and not nearly as important as the culture seems to believe (e.g., "all this discussion about verbal fry is so much verbal fry!")

  52. What’s the Point? « the linguistics underground said,

    December 23, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

    […] but seemingly unheard of elsewhere.) The recent vocal fry phenomenon is another good example, where actual linguists have weighed in about how the whole thing isn't actually so recent, yet nobody is paying […]

  53. Fuzzworth said,

    January 8, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

    For extended examples of vocal fry, listen to Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" She drops whole sentences into the glottal gravel during her commentaries. makes her otherwise excellent program difficult to listen to at times. The women on "Slate" are chronic offenders, as well. Emily Bazelon amandons her kazoo-like voice at the ends of sentences to drop into the fry mode quite frequently, and one of the guests (forgotten which one) on their "Triple X Gabfest" speaks whole paragraphs in the fry mode.

  54. Britney, Pitney and vocal fry | speech talk said,

    February 2, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

    […] there was a response of measured objectivity on the blog of leading phonetician Mark Liberman.  His main complaint was against the alleged novelty (and sex-specificity) of the phenomenon – […]

  55. the phonetics-phonology distinction | Fredrik deBoer said,

    February 25, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

    […] awesome Language Log post, which includes some audio examples and waveform data, reminds me of how I often used to get […]

  56. Arana: Good sociolinguistic conclusion despite questionable examples said,

    January 16, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

    […] it may be, but creaky voice is hardly new. As Liberman noted in 2011, Wolk, Abdelli-Beruh, and Slavin did not trace changes over time (nor did they compare women and […]

  57. Alice Freed said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

    I'm picking up an old thread because I'm reporting on media changes to language and gender research findings at IGALA 8 June 2014.

    What troubled me about the Wolk, Lesley, Nassima B. Abdelli-Beruh, and Dianne Slavin, 2012 Journal of Voice article and the wild popularity of the "vocal fry" stories that followed (in 2011 and 2012) was the enormous over-generalization, stereotyping, and mocking of young women that followed. Mark mentioned some of this in his original post on "vocal fry."

    The original study was very limited in scope. It was based on recordings in an experimental setting where 34 college women read (1) single isolated sustained vowels and (2) six sentences. 27 women used "vocal fry" in the sentences only. NO naturally occurring conversation was considered. The authors themselves didn't generalize their findings, they didn't make claims about the use of "vocal fry" in conversation, nor did they originally make any comparisons between women and men.

    But the media jumped on it – obsessed as ever with male-female difference. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor of NBC news, stated categorically that vocal fry was a speech characteristic that women use that “does not occur” in the speech of young men. http://www.today.com/id/26184891/vp/45681253#45681253

    A slightly different group of researchers later studied 34 men under comparable conditions and found that only 6 used vocal fry in the sentences. (The relative pitch of the male and female participants’ voices was not taken into account.) Abdelli-Beruh, Nassima B., Lesley Wolk, Dianne Slavin, and Ellen James. 2011. “Gender Differences in the Prevalence of Vocal Fry in Young Adult English Speakers.” Paper presented at the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA) Convention, San Diego, November 17–20, 2011.

    Again, no conversational data were considered. Unfortunately, later, the researchers also began over-generalizing their findings!

    No mention of older research about the use of similar phenomena ("creaky voice") by men is found in any of these discussions. No reference to Dwight Bolinger, writing in 1989, describing creaky voice as a “macho style” that men often adopt, sometimes to convey authority. Bolinger, 1989. Intonation and Its Uses: Melody in Grammar and Discourse. Stanford: Stanford University Press. No apparent knowledge of Robert Podesva, 2007, “Phonation Type as a Stylistic Variable: The Use of Falsetto in Constructing a Persona.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(4): 478–504.

    More details are in my chapter in the 2nd edition of the The Handbook of Language and Gender. Miriam Meyerhoff and Susan Ehrlich, (Eds.), Wiley-Blackwell. Alice F. Freed, 2014. “The Public View of Language and Gender.” Pp. 625-645. 2014.

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