July 26, 2007

Voice lessons.

Lately, I've noticed a lot of young women speaking in a strangled voice that seems to be produced by a laborious effort to bypass the larynx altogether. They sound as if they are damaging their throats. Are you noticing this trend? Can you tell me how it got started? Is there some celebrity they are imitating? It sounds a little Winona Ryder to me, but there must be some stronger role models affecting young women. Also, is there some way to get them to stop? It is worse than Valley Girl intonation.

ADDED: Someone in the comments blames Tara Reid. Let's listen:



Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Please! She may be cute, but you Taroids? You sound awful.

MORE: A reader emails that it's called "creaky voice"
:
Creaky voice (also called laryngealisation, pulse phonation or, in singing, vocal fry or glottal fry), is a special kind of phonation in which the arytenoid cartilages in the larynx are drawn together; as a result, the vocal folds are compressed rather tightly, becoming relatively slack and compact, and forming a large, irregularly vibrating mass. The frequency of the vibration is very low (20–50 pulses per second, about two octaves below normal voice) and the airflow through the glottis is very slow. A slight degree of laryngealisation, occurring e.g. in some Korean consonants is called "stiff voice".

There is some argument among music instructors as to whether or not this is an actual register as it can be used to add a raspy sound to other registers. By putting a lesser amount of air on the cords than is needed for a clear tone of the pitch you are going for, the tone breaks up and becomes a rasp. Many Nu Metal singers use this technique to create a screaming sound. One example is Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. Yeah Yeah Yeahs' singer Karen O also utilizes the technique in songs like "Rich" and "Art Star"....

Creaky voice manifests itself in the idiolects of some American English speakers, particularly at the beginnings of sentences that the speaker wishes to "soft-pedal". This phenomenon is more prominent among female American English speakers than among male speakers.

Okay, then. More video:



MORE: Slate's Emily Bazelon is a perfect example of the voice I'm talking about.

40 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

This is a very strange observation. Do you have a link so that we can hear this strange vocal pattern?

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry, I'm just overhearing it in public places. It's driving me crazy. I feel like walking up to strangers and telling them to cut it out.

Pogo said...

I think I know what you are describing; I have heard something similar. It is an affectation, but at first I thought lots of women had the same cold.

Maybe they just never got over thier college anomie.

demian said...

This is where a podcast would help...

But if i understand the professor correctly -- a sort of hoarse, husky voice -- actress Tara Reid (American Pie, Van Wilder, Scrubs) may have contributed to the trend. Hers is a smoker's voice (as is Winona's, I believe).

chickenlittle said...

Perhaps it's something contagious.

Der Hahn said...

Could this be related to what I see as a similar trend toward young women adopting the grim 'thousand-yard stare' facial expressions and body movements of high-fashion runway models?

lee david said...

Lately? I have noticed this for a number of years. The lack of normal resonance in the sound makes me cringe, it's like the proverbial "nails on the chalkboard". The first thing that I think is, can you imagine the horror ho having to live with someone that sounded like that with every word that they spoke. It sounds whiney, harsh, and infantile, a constant temper tantrum intonation to every word. It is not feminine or attractive.

I also have wondered where the model for this affectation came from. I still don't know but I have noticed that a large percentage of the female pop vocalists for the last ten or so years sing like this. The Cranberries come to mind as one of the most glaring examples. It's been a long time since I have heard a new 'good, clear, strong female voice' in pop music. It's almost as if there is some unwritten code that says the only way to convey the authenticity of your sentiment is the impassioned screech.

Nels said...

So you don't think is simply from a combination of cigarettes, alcohol, and lack of sleep? In other words, constant, excessive partying?

John Stodder said...

Caused by smoking, perhaps?

Maybe I'm having aural hallucinations, but about 90 percent of the women who regularly appear on TV seem to have that slight buzz/crackle in their voices, and slightly lower intonation, of smokers.

People (not just women) who are trying to get airtime recognize the only sure-fire way to keep enough weight off to look good on TV is to smoke, so almost all of them do it. Their fans might or might not be smokers but they want to sound like their heroes -- hence the strangly affect.

stoqboy said...

I'm with Nels, cigarettes, alcohol, hangover voice. I don't get whiny, but definitely harsh. As for a clear pop voice check out Katie Melua.

John Stodder said...

can you imagine the horror ho having to live with someone that sounded like that with every word that they spoke.

I realize this was just a typo, but I couldn't stop laughing at the image of what an annoyed "horror ho" might do to their housemate.

Maxine Weiss said...

Who wants to follow these bimbos and their mindless chatter.

It helps to watch TV on mute and just use captions, and then you can play your favorite chamber--- or jazz piano music, without hearing all the nonsense jabber.

Maxine Weiss said...

Oh, public places? Well, that's your own fault. You're the one who frequents these haunts, and goes looking for it. And, Brooklyn is even more shrill.

If you moved to Florida, or the suburbs you wouldn't have that problem.

Galvanized said...

First off, I wasn't aware that there was anything worse than the Valley Girl intonation. But the answer is easy -- it's the new generation's ANTI-Valley Girl intonation (which was overly animated, anxious, and hyperfeminine, and often loud). It's anticlimactic, nonchalant, more relaxed (yes, almost drugged), and more masculine, almost spoken in a whisper. Notice the lack of animation in the facial expressions - more flat with little eyebrow and lip movement. It seems to say, "Take me seriously and I just might actually use my voice instead of running my breath over gravel."

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Tibore said...

To me, this sounds like a voice with a tendency towards being nasal, but not making it all the way and just sort of sitting in the back of the throat, right behind the mouth. You can almost replicate the almost-nasally sound by constricting your throat and trying to... um... best way I can describe it is "talk at the top of your larynx". Yeah, odd way of putting it, true, but it's the best I can do.

Until reading this post, the way I always thought of voices like Tara Reids was "husky-lite". Or, when I'm feeling particularly aroused by the actress, bedroom-talk voice.

John Stodder said...

Also not quite the topic, but I hate "Scrubs." Hate it. I think Zach Braff wants to be a Generation X or is it Y version of Woody Allen. Bad idea.

Maxine Weiss said...

Women are to be seen and not heard.

Galvanized said...

Ah, but Braff goes deeper than that. Have you seen Garden State, Stodder? I absolutely love that movie. Scrubs, to me, is funny, but it doesn't show his dramatic talent. But you're right -- I think that he does have some hint of Woody Allen in his dialogue. I never thought of that before.

Maxine Weiss said...

Crime statistics show that when a man gets stabbed, the stabber aims for the heart. But, when a women gets stabbed, women overwhelmingly are stabbed in the larynx.

They always aim for the throat, if it's a woman.

And we all know why. Not that I advocate stabbing---mind you.

Love, Maxine

Steven said...

That might have something to do with the differences in average height between men and women, rather than reflecting a conscious decision on the part of the stabbers.

TMink said...

I call it the little girl voice. I hear it a lot in women who were abused as children. It is infantalized to some extent, they speak from their nose and throat, with very little chest or diaphram involvement. And it often sounds as if they are asking a question, even when they are not.

When they are better, more themselves, they speak like women, using their whole body. This healthy voice is usually lower in pitch, much more resonant, and they use more definitive language with strong statements of opinion.

I have thought about doing an article on it, but I am too busy at work. On some levels, I can tell how well they are doing by how their voice sounds.

I sure know what you are speaking of though.

Trey

Pogo said...

Re: "I call it the little girl voice."

Ooooooh. That sounds quite correct!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Can this also be a geographical thing? I didn't hear anything out of the ordinary in the first clip? She sounded perfectly normal to me.

lee david said...

That second clip sort of nails it. It's the "hip, punk, postmodern girl vocal sound". I don't know why they do it but, I swear, the cumulative effect might be just the thing to send a guy out for a quart of milk, never to return.

amba said...

I'm not sure what you're talking about, but my immediate association was to Japanese, where there's almost a whole different language for women (with polite, euphemistic and "cute" ways of saying things men can say much more crudely, forcefully and directly), and women learn to talk in a high, breathy baby voice that is quite artificial (though it becomes second nature) and that I think has the subconsciously intended effect of making them sound harmless and powerless.

To continue this fantasy, I associate it ("sound unheard") with anorexia and, less drastically, the whole obsession women seem to have with being small and thin and fragile-looking at the same time they're insisting that they're empowered and liberated.

But the vocal thing you're talking about may be something completely different. I'd probably know it if I heard it. I certainly do notice inflections that annoy me -- everyone of a certain generation talks like girls on T.V., from L.A.

amba said...

Galvanized makes it sound like it's something very different. But still, it's throttled-down power. Women having and showing real power is still a no-no -- at least women themselves (ourselves) have deep inhibitions about it. Until we get older and have nothing to lose (cackle).

John Stodder said...

"Garden State" was okay. The music was great. I don't know if it's fair to expect the Shins to "change your life," but they are pretty swell. But the tendency of movies like that to start out as irony-dripping, alienated comedies, and then turn into soft, sentimental goo is a tendency I don't enjoy.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Galvanized said...

The kind that I'm thinking of is spoken much more slowly and passively, almost always with slow blinks or half-open eyes, almost like someone on a high. I think that voice is used to indicate some amount of disinterest or apathy, as is made cool now by Paris, Nicole and a number of other material girls. There's a kind of stumbling rhythm to it. And remember that kind of "maaaaaahhhhh" think you used to do when you were little, kind of clicking the back of your throat? It sounds a little like that. It's that kind of voice you lapsed into while answering a prof's college question when you weren't quite sure, as though you were about to trail off into a nap. It's a generation X/Y-specific speech malady.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Balfegor said...

Re: creaky voice --

I can't see/hear the clips, but creaky voice is a feature of a lot of Californian dialects. Ever since I first recognised it, I associated it with the Valley-Girl class of Californian dialects, but I suppose it is anti-valley-girl in its way. My youngest sister uses creaky voice. I think you can hear an example of it in Pixar's Incredibles -- the voice actor for the little girl who turns invisible uses it sometimes.

Young Californian men use creaky voice a lot too, I think, though not as much as women. It's more noticeable with women, though. I think it's because when men try to pitch their voice below their natural register -- as men do -- it often comes out sounding like creaky voice (although creaky voice doesn't have to be pitched low).

Re: amba:

I'm not sure what you're talking about, but my immediate association was to Japanese, where there's almost a whole different language for women (with polite, euphemistic and "cute" ways of saying things men can say much more crudely, forcefully and directly), and women learn to talk in a high, breathy baby voice that is quite artificial (though it becomes second nature) and that I think has the subconsciously intended effect of making them sound harmless and powerless.

I don't think Japanese women really talk with a high breathy voice so much. There is a pattern of female speech that is breathy, but -- like breathy English-language female speech -- it tends to be pitched lower, I think. Although there are exceptions. The actress Hirosue Ryoko, for example, has a high, nasal, somewhat breathy voice. It's kind of cute, in a way, but also almost as annoying as "high, nasal, breathy" makes her voice sound. But I just haven't heard many women in real life using those voicings, so it's somewhat distinctive.

I guess another breathy female Japanese speech pattern might be the stereotypical Kyoto accent you sometimes see in dramas and suchlike. Kyoto is the ancient capital, so there's aristocratic, refined associations with that accent, and you sometimes here a Kyoto-style accent with breathy voice. Again, though, I've never actually heard anyone use that voice, except jokingly.

The high-pitched female voice you encounter in everyday life tends to be nasal (many Japanese accents are kind of nasal anyhow), but I think that's falling out of fashion a bit. Last time I was there, I mostly heard it from middle aged women and people/cartoons on TV. Young women still pitch their voices a bit higher than they do in the US (and I think they continue to do so more markedly when at work), but it's more natural than the older generation.

Ann Althouse said...

Galvanized said..."The kind that I'm thinking of is spoken much more slowly and passively, almost always with slow blinks or half-open eyes, almost like someone on a high."

Sounds like Ellen Feiss!

Ruth Anne: "Garance."

Yeah!

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Callimachus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TMink said...

Pogo wrote: "Ooooooh. That sounds quite correct!"

Pogo, dude, are you mocking me?

Well the nerve!

Trey

nick danger said...

It happens with guys too. For example, the way Lumberg says "yeahhhhh...."

Bubba in Texas said...

I originally posted about this in the forums at waywordradio.org, home of "A Way With Words"...where I found a link to this page.

The best example of someone who has this vocal pattern is Mignon Fogerty, AKA "Grammar Girl" from the Grammar Girl podcast. Her voice absolutely drives me CRAZY (and not in a good way).

Here is her website, which includes episodes of her podcast:

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

Bubba in Texas said...

Oops, her last name is spelled "Fogarty", not "Fogerty". Sorry for the mistake...but I still don't care for the voice, and for that I won't apologize.

xnar said...

Wow. It's like Deja Vu all over again.