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Vocal Fry And Young Women: Are They Trying To Sound Like Ke$ha And Britney?

Vocal Fry

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 12/15/2011 12:31 pm Updated: 12/21/2011 1:05 pm

Apparently, a lot of today's young women want their voices to sound like Ke$ha or Britney Spears.

At least, that's what a small new study published in the Journal of Voice suggests.

In the study, researchers from Long Island University listened to the speech patterns of 34 women of college age, finding that more than two-thirds of them talk with what is called "vocal fry" -- that raspy, creaky voice that is exemplified when Britney Spears sings "Oh baby, baby," MSNBC reported.

"(A)necdotally, vocal fry is judged to be annoying by those who are not as young as the college students we tested," study researcher Nassima Abdelli-Beruh told MSNBC. "My son, who is a teenager, listens to 92.3 NOW in NYC. I noticed the way the voice said 'NOW' on the radio (is) clearly glottal fry."

In the past, too much use of vocal fry has been regarded as a speech disorder, Science reported. However, because the women in the study who spoke that way most often employed the speech tactic at the ends of sentences -- and not continuously -- it's unlikely to do any real damage to their vocal cords, according to Science magazine.

Singers may use vocal fry to go from higher to lower notes, but the study suggests that the way of speech may have become a "language fad," Science magazine reported.

However, The Atlantic pointed out that vocal fry may not really be a new trend, citing a post by Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at The University of Pennsylvania.

The Atlantic said:

It turns out that vocal fry isn't a phenomenon, but something that all speakers employ from time to time. The study doesn't claim to quantify the change of creekage over time, or even look at how vocal patterns differ between genders. The research only looked at the way 32 college-aged women spoke, concluding that it occurs often in their patterns.

Ikuko Patricia of the University of Iowa, who has published research on prevalence of "creaky voice" in women and men in the past, told TIME that vocal fry might also be associated with how men speak, and authority:

Perhaps that same semblance of authority can explain why young, college-bound women seem to be employing the creak. Yuasa posited that it could be a way to compete with men by taking advantage of the attributes associated with a lower-pitched voice. "Creaky voice may provide a growing number of American women with a way to project an image of accomplishment," Yuasa wrote in her 2010 study, "while retaining female desirability."

Past studies have also examined how we use tones in our voices to convey certain emotions and characteristics. A study last year in the journal Emotion showed that speaking in what is called a "minor third" -- a musical term for what gives songs that "sad" feeling -- can also work for speech, Scientific American reported.

"Historically, people haven't thought of pitch patterns as conveying emotion in human speech like they do in music," study researcher Meagan Curtis, of Tufts University's Music Cognition Lab, told Scientific American. "Yet for sad speech there is a consistent pitch pattern. The aspects of music that allow us to identify whether that music is sad are also present in speech."

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