Vocal fry

VOH-kuhl freye n.

KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN  A voice buzzes with vocal fry at the lowest registers, when the vocal folds in the throat vibrate irregularly (right).

R.C. Anderson et al/PLOS ONE 2014

A sizzling or rattling sound to speech. Also known as the pulse register phonation or glottal fry, vocal fry is a quality of the lowest registers of the human voice.

The effect is produced when the vocal folds in the throat are pressed toward each other and relaxed, creating a popping, creaky sound. The noise can be a result of voice pathology, or simply an affectation. Once you learn to recognize vocal fry, you may start hearing it everywhere. Recent studies have highlighted vocal fry as particularly common among young women in North America.

In a study published May 28 in PLOS ONE, Rindy Anderson of Duke University and colleagues suggest that most people prefer a voice without vocal fry, rating it more attractive, better educated and more hirable, with women’s ratings penalized more for fry than those of men. But the sound has its uses. Vocal fry is found in the bass part of some types of gospel songs, and languages such as Jalapa Mazatec in the Mexican state of Oaxaca use vocal fry to change the meaning of words.

Vocal fry’s subtle sizzle

Participants in a recent study of vocal fry heard several recordings of people saying the sentence, “Thank you for considering me for this opportunity,” in a normal voice:

and with vocal fry:

Despite the subtle differences, people rated the clips with vocal fry as being significantly less attractive, competent and hirable.

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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