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How the Mass Media is contributing to the Emergence of Creaky Voice among young American Women

Akademische Arbeit 2018 21 Seiten

Sprachwissenschaft / Sprachforschung (fachübergreifend)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What is “Creaky Voice”?

3. The Media’s Influence on Language

4. Media Outlets that frequently feature Creaky Voice by American Women
4.1 Television
4.2 Film
4.3 Social Media
4.4 Music?

5. Conclusion

Works cited

1. Introduction

In recent years there has been a “hot linguistic fad […] or the verbal tic of doom” that has become increasingly present in the speech of North American women.[1] This linguistic obscurity is creaky voice or vocal fry. It has been commonly referred to as a component of “valley-girl-sound” because of its occurrence was often noticeable in the speech of young women from the west coast of the U.S. – specifically California. Now the trend has spread throughout the United States which has triggered numerous reports on blogs as well as various studies and research concerning this topic. Interestingly, however, most of the recent research conducted on the use of vocal fry among young American women has been about its perception. Yuasa’s study from 2010, for instance, came to the conclusion that creaky voice by American women from northern California and eastern Iowa was perceived as “hesitant, nonaggressive, and informal but also educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile.”[2] While other studies suggest that it could be hurting their job opportunities.

While the perception on vocal fry varies, so do the opinions for its emergence among young Americans. Some propose that it is a part of a social identity that young women strive to be a part of. Others suggest that it is a tool to lower the voice in order for it to resemble the male voice which is frequently perceived as more dominant because of its lower pitch. Consequently, this theory means that vocal fry is a tool of empowerment for young women. The theory that will be discussed in this paper, however, will be a different one. I will examine how vocal fry and its popularity among young American women are being spread through the popular women who are prevalent in the media. As Graddol and Swan state:

“It would be surprising if people did not use their voice to project a culturally desirable image. Other parts of the human body which have been endowed with social significance are manipulated, groomed or decorated before being presented in public.” [3]

This statement gives power to the argument that the not only the vocab but also the phonation in the speech of young women are impressionable by famous and successful women that function as role models for them.

In many articles on this topic the authors only touch on its emergence through celebrities such as Kim Kardashian or Katy Perry but do not discuss how frequently they use it and how much potential influence they actually have. They also only reduce their theory of its emergence to one media outlet such as television although vocal fry is present in all of the primary audio and audio-visual media consumed by young women in today’s society. These “voids” are often disregarded when discussing its prevalence and resulting spread through the media. These voids will be discussed more closely in this research paper.

I will begin with an explanation of vocal fry that will feature a physiological approach that explains the processes that take place in the larynx when vocal fry is used. Furthermore I its natural occurrence since vocal fry will also be discussed because is often presence in regular speech but to a far lesser degree. In an attempt to visualize creaky voice, waveforms that display normal voice and vocal fry will also be shown and discussed. Chapter two three will focus on the media’s influence on language. This is a substantial part of the discussion because if the media did not have any or only a very small recognizable influence on language, the entire theory would be invalidated. After showing how the media has been affecting language, I will focus on the contemporary media outlets that feature successful American women who use creaky voice very frequently. In the conclusion the findings will be summed up and evaluated.

2. What is “Creaky Voice”?

Creaky voice is a phonatory setting that occurs during speech. Also referred to as vocal fry or laryngealization (in linguistic literature), it is the lowest vocal register and is produced when the vocal folds are pressed together more tightly during speech than in regular voicing.[4] In clear speech, the vocal chords vibrate in their maximum range of space while air passes through them. This (usually) makes the phonological production of the speaker sound clear. When applying creaky voice not only are the vocal folds being compressed, but the whole larynx is shortened until the point that it seems cramped. This means that only a short length of vocal chords vibrate and the air cannot pass through as fluent and uninterrupted as usual. This results in the distinct auditory effect of vocal fry – the speaker’s voice sounding like a “rapid series of taps, like a stick being run along a railing”.[5] It is often also compared to a popping noise which is often said to have been the reason for the eventual term vocal fry because it gives the impression that the words of the speaker are being “fried” as they are being spoken.

What also needs to be mentioned, however, is that creaky voice cannot only be applied intentionally by the speaker, it also occurs inadvertently. The natural level of creaky varies from speaker to speaker meaning that some speakers tend to exhibit more creak in their voice than others without doing it purposely. It can also occur in speech because of factors such as age and tiredness.[6] It also occurs regardless of the factors mentioned. For instance, if there is a vowel at the beginning of a sentence, speakers tend to use vocal fry automatically to articulate the vowel. Furthermore at the end of a sentence, the speaker often reduces his or her pitch to a lower frequency which makes the end of the sentence sound “fried”.[7] This research, however, will focus on the intended and excessive use vocal fry.

When focusing on the intonation of creaky voice, the extremely low pitch of the speaker is striking, meaning that he or she is able to speak in a much deeper voice. The mean frequency of male speakers using vocal fry, for example, has been found to be 34.6 Hz but can also drop to 24 Hz on average depending on the speaker’s individual range of pitch.[8] Although the average modal register of male voices has a very wide range from approximately 60 Hz to 260 Hz, the pitch of 34.6 Hz measured during vocal fry lies far beneath the lower end of pitch when a male is speaking in a regular voice.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1

Figure 1 illustrates the waveforms of the word bat when spoken in a regular voice and in creaky voice. The waveforms of the first and regular articulation of bat show the pulses of the vocal folds clearly marked at point (a). The second and creaky articulation of bat begin with a very low pitch. Here the pulses of the vocal folds are rather widely spaced. They then turn into very widely spaced pulses at point (b).[9] Two things are striking when comparing the second articulation with the first. Firstly the actual time needed to say the word is about a tenth of a second longer because of the creaky articulation of the vowel a. So in order to voice a perceivable articulation of vocal fry the vowels in the spoken word are extended. Secondly the pulses of the vocal folds are a little further apart. The pulses of the waves corresponding to the first format have a greater amplitude than in clear voicing.

The linguistic and logopedic perception of vocal fry have varied in the past. Although the typical familiar and distinct sound has been known much longer, it was not until a few decades ago that it was recognized as an actual vocal register. In the past, its use was considered to be a form of hoarseness due to the scratchy sound and lower pitch. Hence, it was classified as a speech disorder.[10] Most speech pathologists, however, eventually shared the opinion that it can only be seen as a disorder if used too frequently.

In today’s society, however, creaky voice is becoming increasingly popular mostly among young American women. Reports state that it is not only used in social contexts, but also in professional settings such as job interviews.[11] The opinions on the frequent use of vocal fry vary heavily to the point that there have been studies in order to determine what its contemporary perception is in society. As mentioned before, this research paper will not examine its perception among listeners but rather why it is perceived so positively by young American women.

3. The Media’s Influence on language

The mass media have penetrated so deeply in our Society that it is important to examine the types and nature of the influence the mass media exert on individuals in society.[12] As the quote states, the media’s constant presence in society as well as the people’s willingness to consume mass media in various forms is affecting us in some way. However, when effects of the media are discussed an important and substantial component that is often disregarded, is language. Although there are plenty of other areas where its effects are also noticeable, language is a very significant one and the component that is relevant for this research paper. Today, Language is as present as it has ever been in mass media – in written and spoken form. This is due to the fact that today there are so many media outlets and that they are so easily accessible to the majority of people living in societies of the first world. It is nearly impossible not to be confronted with media language throughout the day. Even if the constant contact with media language has not changed the way everyone speaks, it has for many; and even those whose speech it has not changed, are aware of certain words, phrases, and paralinguistic phenomena – such as vocal fry. Many others have adapted to media language and have implemented media-based linguistics into their speech. Young American Women who purposely speak in a creaky voice are can be seen as an example for this, since vocal fry is used by many influential women who enjoy a high degree of exposure through the media. Now it is necessary to discuss in which media outlets vocal fry is prevalent. Furthermore, it is not only important to name the women who use vocal fry in their speech, but also touch on their level of success in order to exemplify their potential influence on young women.

4. Media Outlets that frequently feature Creaky Voice by American women

In discussions about the media’s sociolinguistic influence, media such as books, newspapers and blogs are also of great importance. However, written language cannot exhibit paralinguistic phenomena and therefore will be disregarded in this research paper. Since this paper discusses creaky voice, a special kind of phonation, I will be focusing on the most important audio and audio-visual forms of media that feature creaky voice and affect our society today.

4.1 Television

When examining the media’s influence on language, television is a substantial aspect of discussion. On average people are still spending 25 hours a week watching television which means that they are also spending a large amount of their time listening to the language being spoken on television. For children and teenagers 25 hours of television are similar to the amount of time they spend at school or with their friends and family.[13] Hence, one could argue that for young people television reaches a similar degree of linguistic influence as that of their peers, parents and teachers.

However, it is not only the language of children and teenagers that are affected by television but rather society as a whole. The Simpsons’ character Homer Simpson’s very popular exclamation “d’oh”, combined with a smack to the forehead, has been added to the Oxford Dictionary with the definition “expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish”. This means that a term from a popular TV-show has not only become very present in Pop Culture, but has also been universally recognized as a part of the English Language.[14] An example for an informal term that has become prevalent among young Americans is “punk’d”. A title that derives from the same-titled television series Punk’d rose to prominence in the early and mid 2000s. In the show, the creator and host, Ashton Kutcher confronts celebrities with elaborate pranks that propel them to frustration and desperation. The celebrities are not aware of the fact that they are being filmed and pranked. In the end Kutcher tells them that they were being filmed and the occurrence was a spoof and eventually exclaims “you just got punk’d” as clarification. The show enjoyed great success which also led to it being watched by many young people. As an effect it became a popular term for when someone falls into trickery by another.[15] As aforementioned, the term punk’d did not achieve formal recognition by being added to an official dictionary, but its popularity and presence in society make it nearly impossible to deny that television has an influence on contemporary language – even if it is “just” vernacular.

These examples of new language implemented in society through television have been solely neologisms. When considering the emergence of vocal fry, the question arises if certain phonatory characteristics of speech in television can also influence the language of the viewers. Gunter et al., for instance, examined if entire speech patterns could be “distributed” through television. In their study they focused on two linguistic changes that were quickly taking place in Glaswegian vernacular language. Their theory was that the changes in speech of apparently nonmobile adolescents were the result of watching popular TV-series that were set in London. They came to the realization that the linguistic features with consideration of phonation exhibited by the Scottish teenagers were very present in the series as many of the main characters spoke in a similar manner.[16]


[1] Okrent, Arika. „What is Vocal Fry?” Mental Floss. 10 February 2015. 3 February 2018 .

[2] Yuasa, Ikuko Patricia. 2010. Creaky Voice: A New Feminine Voice Quality For Young Urban-oriented Upwardly Mobile American Women? American Speech 85 (3), 336.

[3] Graddol, David & Joan Swan. 1989. Gender Voices. Oxford: Blackwell, 27.

[4] Laver, John. 1980. The phonetic description of voice quality. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 123.

[5] Laver, 124.

[6] Shaw, Francesca & Victoria Crocker. 2015. “Creaky Voice as a Stylistic Feature of Young American Female Speech: An Intraspeaker Variation Study of Scarlett Johansson.” Lifespan and Styles. 1 (3), 21.

[7] Ladefoged, Peter & Sandra F. Disner. 2012. Vowels and Consonants. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 145.

[8] Laver, 122.

[9] Ladefoged, 145.

[10] Harryman, Elizabeth, Janet Kresheck & Lucille Nicolosi. 2004. Terminology of communication disorders: Speech-language-hearing. Maryland: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 335.

[11] Reiser, Emon. "Didn't get that job? Maybe it's because of your 'vocal fry'." bizjounrals. 9 June 2014. 30 January 2018.

[12] Willie, Michael. 1979. “The Mass Media and Language development.” Australian Journal of Teacher Education. 4 (2), 58.

[13] Mehraj, Hakim K, et al. 2014. ”Impacts of Media and Society.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention. 3 (6), 56.

[14] Perritano, John. “10 Ways Television Has Changed the Way We Talk.” HowStuffWorks. 11 Mar. 2011. 30 January 2018.

[15] Perritano, John.

[16] Stuart-Smith, Jane, et al. 2013. “Television can also be a Factor in Language Change: Evidence from an urban Dialect.” Language 89 (3), 531.


ISBN (eBook)
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Institution / Hochschule
Bayerische Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
vocal fry creaky voice mass media linguistics american women



Titel: How the Mass Media is contributing to the Emergence of Creaky Voice among young American Women