Friday, October 30, 2015

The Vocal Fry Debate is Sexist

You should hear Bob Garfield of NPR talk about vocal fry.  He loathes vocal fry. It's also called up talk, up speak, "creaky voice" or Valley speak. These aren't all the same thing and they get conflated. Vocal fry is specifically the rumble your voice produces when you for it lower in your register. The popular use of the term dates back to 2011 after a linguistic study of 34 college students at Long Island University. But I've found it in text books going back to at least 1970. So lets mince some words...

Garfield calls vocal fry obnoxious and annoying. That matters because Garfield is, at least ostensibly, a legitimate journalist and commentator. He's formerly a writer for Advertising Age, a frequent contributor to All Things Considered and consultant to ABC, CBS, CNBC, and PBS. Currently he is the co-host of the On the Media program at NPR. More here and here.

On the January 2nd podcast "Get Your Creak On" from the program Lexicon Valley Garfield let it rip. He said vocal fry appears almost exclusively among young women. It's defenders claim that kind of criticism is sexist. Some defenders go deflect and claim that men do it as well. More here.  Self consciously, NPR even did their own podcast commenting on Garfield's comments in yet another podcast. You can hear that here. Naomi Wolf even weighed in and encouraged young women to "give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice." More here.

This podcast "Talking White Female" did a decent job interpreting the issue. It's true that women are encouraged and sometimes even trained to lower their voice to project authority and confidence. That problem is obviously sexist. It is forcing the voice lower, that causes vocal fry. The podcast Stuff You Should Know covered the topic as well. [LINK]

But whether you notice it or not, like it or dislike it, hear it on TV and in film or not.. you do not generally hear it in broadcasting unless the topic itself is vocal fry. but Ira Glass covered the topic back on January 23rd. More here. The irony is that Ira Glass also has vocal fry... and you didn't notice that until just now. Which means you've been hearing it on NPR for three decades already.