Trendy Vocal Quirk Common in Speech of Both Younger and Older Women

Date: April 28, 2015
Dr. Gisele Oliveira
Dr. Gisele Oliveira
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Elisheva Schlam
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Celebrities like the Kardashians are known for using “glottal fry” when they talk, but new research presented here at a poster session at Touro College Research Day shows the vocal affectation is common among non-famous women, too. Touro College Research Day, organized by the Touro Research Collaborative, is being held from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28, at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Touro College of Pharmacy campus at 230 West 125th Street in Harlem. 

Also called “vocal fry” or “creak,” this guttural rattle can creep in when a person's voice is tired, explains Gisele Oliveira, PhD, who led the new study and is an assistant professor and voice specialist at Touro's Graduate Program in Speech-Language Pathology. “It's something that people can have at the end of a sentence, when they are vocally tired, after they have undergone a long period or intensive period of talking.”

While using glottal fry won't harm your voice, Dr. Oliveira noted, it could hurt your job prospects. A study out last year found listeners perceived young women who spoke with vocal fry as being less competent, and less hirable, than their peers who didn't.

News outlets ranging from National Public Radio to Gawker have, in recent years, observed that young women tend to use glottal fry in their normal speech. When she moved to the United States two years ago, Dr. Oliveira said, “I started noticing the vocal fry being present all over, not only in the population of younger women as the literature has proven,” she added. “I met older women, middle aged women, and even younger women that have vocal fry in their speech.”

To better understand the phenomenon, Dr. Oliveira and her students watched 40 American women describe how to do the laundry and make a peanut butter sandwich. Half the group ranged in age from 18 to 25, while half were 35 to 50 years old. While glottal fry can be observed with the “naked ear,” the researchers used acoustic analysis software to make precise measurements.

Glottal fry permeated the speech of both the younger and older women, they found. The young women used vocal fry nearly 15 times per minute, while the older women used it nearly 12 times a minute, which wasn't a statistically significant difference.

While young men also use vocal fry in their speech, Dr. Oliveira said, the lower pitch of a man's voice makes it less noticeable.

The Touro Research Collaborative, a dedicated group of faculty who pursue research in the medical and health sciences, founded the Research Day—now in its fourth year—to foster collaborations among faculty and students.