Study: Younger Women Changing Speech Patterns to Mimic Pop Stars

A new study suggests modern pop songs are influencing the way young women speak. Not in terms of the language used – pop culture has always influenced that – but in how their voices sound.

The report, recently published online in the Journal of Voice, claims the likes of Britney Spears and Ke$ha are causing an increase in the use of a speech pattern called ‘vocal fry.’

Vocal fry refers to the creaky, rough, guttural sound that pop stars like to add to lower notes, often to convey a sense of greater soulfulness/irritate the living hell out of the rest of us (delete as appropriate). So the way Spears croaks out the line “Oh baby, baby” in ‘Baby One More Time’ – that’s vocal fry.

Long Island University speech scientist Nassima Abdelli-Beruh is one of the authors of the study (with Lesley Wolk and Dianne Slavin), and describes the sound as like “rattled, popping air.”

“My colleagues and I have noticed this speech pattern in our young female college students,” she said after testing male and female college students and discovering vocal fry was far more prevalent in women. Not in all cases, however:

“Interestingly, some research indicates that in some dialects of British English, male speakers use fry more often than female. So maybe it is also a gender marker.”

Abdelli-Beruh also argues it could a generational phenomenon:

“(A)necdotally, vocal fry is judged to be annoying by those who are not as young as the college students we tested. My son, who is a teenager, listens to 92.3 NOW in NYC. I noticed the way the voice said ‘NOW’ on the radio (is) clearly glottal fry.”

Curious stuff indeed. Do you know anyone who speaks like Ke$ha? Better question: how are you still friends with people who sound like Ke$ha?