Vocal fry (or glottalization, pulse phonation, creaky voice) is fascinating. Described by Catford (1977) as “rapid series of taps like a stick being run along a railing”, this surprising phonation type was considered pathological for decades, before becoming very common in young american (english speaking) women, thus attracting the attention of speech researchers. It is an accent which conveys strong associations to a cultural background, but it goes beyond by being picked up as a powerful personality signal.
Vocal fry is the lowest of all vocal registers, it is so low pitch values (measured in Hz) associated to it go as low as 24 to 52Hz for males, and 18-46Hz for females (for the comparison, normal male voices are usually expected to have a pitch ranging from 100 to 300 Hz, while females go as far as 500Hz and as low as 140 Hz, approximately). It consists in vibrating vocal chords so slowly at the end of vowels that it just seems like the tone has been fried on a pan. Arytenoid cartilages are held closely, and the resulting aperiodic vibrations create a creaking, rattling sound. Vocal fold is short and thick in the vocal fry register, and glottal area produces short sharp pulses followed by a long closed glottal interval (Childers & Lee, 1991).
To some extent, low-pitched speakers are perceived as stronger and more dominant. So it would seem natural to expect that speakers using vocal fry are perceived as more competent in professional settings. And indeed, vocal fry can be found in female professionals occupying traditionnally “male dominated ” industries such as finance. This could mean that vocal fry is associated to intelligence, determination. Vocla fry is mostly prevalent in college-age females, and a study on vocal fry in this population showed that judgment of intelligence and likability did not solely depend on the presence or absence of vocal fry but on judgments of perceived intelligence and likability in this population. the effect of vocal fry on intelligence and likability perception was found to be significantly tied to other speech features. Indeed, vocal fry was in one’s favour when associated to high pitch and fast rate, but had the opposite effect when the speaker showed a low pitch and a fast rate.
Nevertheless, some vocal coaches advise against the use of vocal fry in professional places, arguing that it doesn’t sound serious or authoritative but rather uneducated and immature. The fact that it seems like more of a fashion trend than a regional accent – so that it is actively acquired by exposition to a certain population rather than by exposure while growing up – could suggest that it is a social inflection.
A study published in 2017 by Borrie and Delfino (2017) has shown that young women would use more vocal fry when conversing with other young women using extensively this register, than when conversing with young women barely using it. This phenomenon called conversational entrainment is also associated to higher enjoyment scores in the interaction as well as communicative efficiency. Using the same register, mimicking each others’ inflections, could thus enhance the socio-affective benefits associated to an interaction.
Anderson, R. C., Klofstad, C. A., Mayew, W. J., & Venkatachalam, M. (2014). Vocal fry may undermine the success of young women in the labor market. PloS one, 9(5).