My “Sin” of Vocal Fry:
I was watching a video on YouTube by linguist Dr. Geoff Lindsey about the recent hate expressed for the speech phenomenon of “Vocal Fry” and some of the mechanism, sound symbolism, and other issues around it. One of the things he brings up near the end of the video is the idea that much of the of the current discussion may have an element of sexism and/or ageism to it. And, as someone who does speak with a bit of “fry” (or “creaky voice” as the British call it), well… I have an opinion.
The Vocal Fry Among American Women discussion that’s going around reminds me of a phenomenon I encountered as a singer and speaker when I was in my twenties and thirties. My male instructors/directors and coworkers (with the exception of my High School choir director Richard Stout) often directed me to sing and speak more “forward,” to sound “brighter and more open,” while my female instructors/directors and coworkers often preferred my tone when it was slightly more relaxed, or “creaky.” “Pitchier” as one of them called it. Other women, I discovered, sometimes found my “bright” tone irritating or “girly,” while men found it more “feminine,” except on the phone, where, ironically, men often told me I sounded “sexy” when my voice was more “fried.” So, yes, I do think a lot of the current public hate for “vocal fry” utilized by American women is sexism (and ageism, since it’s usually directed at women under 40.)
I’ve been working to return to my lower, more relaxed tone recently, since, as I age, I care less about how “feminine” I sound and more about how comfortable I am with my own voice.
We should be comfortable with our voices as with our bodies, we should not find ourselves attacked for what is natural and comfortable for us. I’ve always had a little bit of a lisp; I speak in a lower register than some women, and with a bit of “fry”; I have a regional accent (Central California Valley melded to “SoCal/Val”); I “whoop” when I laugh; and I’m perfectly fine with it. You should be too.