Speak Like An Adult

Many young people are hampered in business, academia, and social situations by something they may not be aware of . . . a speech pattern that is often seen as a marker of immaturity, subservience and even stupidity.

For girls this is sometimes referred to as “the little girl voice,” and is comprised of a high pitch, an upward inflection at the end of sentences (like a question), a low energy or “croaky” sound (fry voice), and the overuse of “like” and “totally” as verbal filler.

For boys it ‘s known as the “dude” voice, which also has the “uptalk” inflection, fry voice, a monotone, lots of verbal filler and a tendency to mumble.

Our “Speak Like An Adult” Workshops and private lessons are being offered by voiceover coach Blair Hardman at Zone Recording in Cotati, CA.

If you, or someone you know, has this verbal virus, and would like to remove the blocks it can put in their lives, call 707-664-1221 or email blair@zonemusic.com  for more information about vocal workshops and private speaking lessons.

At Zone Recording, we also do Digital Recording workshops, where we cover all aspects of recording “from the song to the shrink-wrap”, and Voice Over Workshops for beginning and advanced students.

This skit from the hit show 30 Rock is a perfect, and fun example of the little girl voice.

For more information, read this transcript from the NPR radio program This American Life.”

Act Two. Freedom Fries.

Ira Glass

Act 2, “Freedom Fries.”

So the comments that we get from our listeners are usually nowhere as vicious as what Lindy West gets on a daily basis. But for a while now, the women on our staff have been getting emails like this one.

Quote, “The voice of Chana Joffe-Walt is just too much to bear. And I turn off any episode she’s on. A quick bit of research, found an appropriate description, which is vocal fry. How can This American Life have this on the show? It escapes me.”

If you have no idea what this is about, here’s a clip of Chana.

Chana Joffe

And Thompson kept hearing that term school-to-prison pipeline.

Ira Glass

OK, hear the way that her voice kind of creaks on the word pipeline? That’s vocal fry.

Chana Joffe

Pipeline.

Ira Glass

But it’s not just Chana. A man wrote us in November. Quote, “Vocal fry is a growing fad among young American women. Miki Meek provides a vivid and grating example of this unfortunate affectation.” Miki, by the way, sounds like this.

Miki Meek

She’d never experienced anything outside the church. And she basically checked out on Will and the kids.

Ira Glass

Somebody wrote us about Alix Spiegel, who’s been on our show many, many times– now co-hosts the NPR science program Invisibilia. Quote, “Perhaps Alix could cover the vocal fry epidemic. It would be really interesting to hear her take, as she is clearly a victim herself.” For the record, here is Alix.

Alix Spiegel

Because Roxanne was the only one supporting her young daughter, she had to be able to work.

(HOST) IRA GLASS: Elna Baker, Mary Beth Kirchner, Starlee Kine, Yowei Shaw. When investigative reporter Susan Zalkind was on our show last year with the story of the FBI shooting a man connected to the Boston Marathon bombers, she sounded like this.

Susan Zalkind

But Ibragim also got arrested for beating a guy unconscious over a parking space at a mall in Florida.

Ira Glass

A woman wrote in, quote, “The growl in the woman’s voice was so annoying that I turned it off.” A man wrote, quote, “Listen, I know there’s pressure to hire females, in particular young females just out of college. And besides, they’re likely to work for less money. But do you have to choose the most irritating voices in the English-speaking world? I mean, are you forced to? Or maybe, as I imagine, NPR runs national contests looking for them.”

The term vocal fry started to get wide usage in 2011 after a study of 34 college students at Long Island University found that 2/3 of them had it, usually at the ends of sentences. A reporter wrote a story about that study at the website of Science magazine.Gawker, Huffington Post, Boing Boing, and other sites linked to it. And within days, it became the most popular article ever published on the Science magazine website in its 15 years. Other media glommed on.

Matt Lauer

Something called vocal fry that is creeping into the speech patterns of young women. NBC’S chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman is here to explain. Explain–

Ira Glass

This story on The Today Show raises the possibility that talking this way harms young women’s voices. Since then, many researchers have said this doesn’t seem to be true. The Today Show story also says this only affects women.

Matt Lauer

But is there anything equivalent in men?

Nancy Snyderman

No, there isn’t. And you know what’s interesting is–

Ira Glass

There’s now robust evidence that men do this too. And like a lot of the other coverage, The Today Show story pathologizes vocal fry. It says that it’s some kind of problem instead of just the way that some people talk.

And it teaches viewers to spot it. Today Show host Matt Lauer starts the segment saying that he’s never heard of this, and ends it saying he’d never noticed it before, and now he’s going to be on the alert for it.

Nancy Snyderman

That’s it.

Matt Lauer

Well, that’s the first time I actually heard it in Kim Kardashian.

Nancy Snyderman

Yeah, you have to really listen. And Kim Kardashian really sort of has it.

Matt Lauer

I will start to listen–

Nancy Snyderman

You’re just not going to be hip enough to be there.

Matt Lauer

I’ll listen more carefully.

(HOST) IRA GLASS: The Today Show story and other stories treat vocal fry as if it’s a new phenomenon, on the rise, a fad, an epidemic. But as a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, Mark Lieberman, has pointed out, there is still no evidence of that, pro or con– no evidence that it is more common now than it’s always been.

What’s striking in the dozens of emails about vocal fry that we’ve gotten here at our radio show is how vehement people are. These are some of the angriest emails we ever get. They call these women’s voices unbearable, excruciating, annoyingly adolescent, beyond annoying, difficult to pay attention, so severe as to cause discomfort, can’t stand the pain, distractingly disgusting, could not get over how annoyed I was, I am so appalled, detracts from the credibility of the journalist, degrades the value of the reportage, it’s a choice, very unprofessional.

Stephanie Foo

Lately, in the past year and a half maybe, every time I get together with female radio producers, it’s just like comparing war stories.

Ira Glass

That’s Stephanie Foo, one of the younger producers here on our show.

Stephanie Foo

It’s just listing off, oh, somebody said this about me, my voice this week. Somebody said I sound like a stoner 13-year-old. Somebody said that my voice sounds like driving on gravel. Somebody said they wanted to kill themselves hearing my voice.

Ira Glass

Listeners have always complained about young women reporting on our show. They used to complain about reporters using the word like and about upspeak, which is when you put a question mark at the end of a sentence and talk like this. But we don’t get many emails like that anymore. People who don’t like listening to young women on the radio have moved on to vocal fry.

Chana Joffe

I just feel like, my voice, really?

(HOST) IRA GLASS: This is producer Chana Joffe-Walt. Remember, I read a letter from a listener who found her voice too much to bear. Chana says that it’s fine with her if somebody has a problem with her reporting or her writing or her interviewing, but her voice?

Chana Joffe

I’m just trying to speak. Literally the way that the voice comes out of my mouth bothers you? What am I supposed to do about that? And even now as we’re speaking about it, I am noticing every single time I do it, and then hating every single time I do it, and trying not to do it. But trying not to do it is impossible because it’s the way that I talk, because it’s my actual voice. It’s crazy making.

Ira Glass

It’s funny. Until we started talking about it for this story, I never even noticed it in your voice.

Chana Joffe

And now you notice it every single–

Ira Glass

Yeah. Have you noticed that I do it too?

Chana Joffe

Not until right now.

Ira Glass

Yeah, yeah, even as I say these words.

Chana Joffe

And I didn’t notice it when other women do it either until I started to read about the phenomenon of vocal fry. And then I did notice it. And I find it annoying now when other people do it. I mean, I don’t notice it all of the time. But if I am thinking about it and hear other people do it– other women do it especially– I become like a woman who hates women.

Ira Glass

Wow, it’s like you’ve absorbed the messages of your oppressor.

Chana Joffe

I hear it in you now.

Ira Glass

Yeah. I get criticized for a lot of things in the emails to the show. No one has ever pointed this out.

Chana Joffe

That’s completely unsurprising.

Ira Glass

Oh, do you think it’s just sexism?

Chana Joffe

Yes. I think it taps into some deep part of people’s selves where they don’t want to hear young women, including me. It taps into that in me.

Ira Glass

A few years ago, a linguist named Penny Eckert from Stanford University heard a young woman on NPR and was surprised to hear somebody speaking in such a casual style with so much vocal fry about serious news. And she thought, well, she shouldn’t be on NPR. She doesn’t sound authoritative.

Penny Eckert

When I played it for my students and asked them how they thought she sounded, they said she sounded great. And they thought she sounded authoritative. Then I knew that I was behind the curve.

Ira Glass

So she did a little study– a preliminary study. She played clips of aMarketplace reporter named Sally Herships for 584 people, and she asked them to rate how authoritative the reporter sounded. The results, people under 40 heard it very differently than people over 40.

Penny Eckert

The younger people found that quite authoritative, and the older people did not.

Ira Glass

So if people are having a problem with these reporters on the radio, what it means is they’re old.

Penny Eckert

Yeah, I think old people tend to get cranky about this stuff anyway. But the media are just all over it. I mean, I’m constantly getting requests from media. And they want to talk about the crazy ways that young women are speaking. And the first thing they do is attribute it to young women, even though young men are doing it too. So it’s a policing of young people, but I think most particularly young women.

Ira Glass

She says the same thing happened with upspeak and with the word like. Reporters would call her about these things. They’d point to them as a problem with young women when young men do all that also.

She says people get worked up about this stuff, but it’s just part of life. As we age, we fall out of touch with how younger people speak. Her advice to everybody, including herself– get over it.

Coming up, know what people really love on the internet? Little baby animals. So why would they be yelling at each other about that? That’s in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

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