In the last few years, young American women have started utilizing a low, growly part of their vocal register known as "vocal fry," and scientists are flummoxed as to why. Desire to date Taylor Lautner and other such lupine heartthrobs? Because ladies be catty? Britney Spears?
According to Science magazine, the "vocal fry" phenomenon requires speakers to utilize the lowest of three established vocal registers (the other two are known as falsetto and modal). It sounds like a low, staccato growl much like the low tones that Brit Brit uses when she finishes the phrase "Oh baby baby" at the beginning of "Hit Me Baby, One More Time." Until recently, frequent use of this register was considered a speech impediment.
No longer, if research conducted at Long Island University in Brookville, New York holds up. Researchers there recorded a few dozen young women speaking normally, as they would in everyday conversation. Speech pathologists were then summoned from their various lairs to analyze the speech for impediments or strange patterns, and the experts found that nearly two-thirds of women now utilize "vocal fry" with regularity. This, in turn, has led researchers to conjecture about the cause of the phenomenon's ubiquity. The difference in the fry-hards and the fry-nots seems to be both gender and age-based.
Radio DJs on pop music stations, for example, tend to use their croaky voice in order to talk. The aforementioned Miss Spears uses it to sing. But NPR's on air talent is all modal, all the time. And Miss Piggy is in her third decade of speaking entirely in falsetto. The female test subjects' young male counterparts don't use vocal fry, either (let's hope they don't develop vocal fry-specific misophonia).
The women in the study weren't consistently growling at each other; analysts noticed that the women who spoke with vocal fry tended to oscillate into and out of it, with most of the descent into the low register occurring at the end of sentences. I guess that's better? Than ending? Every phrase? With an implied question mark?
So it turns out that all this Concerned Adult pearl clutching over Britney Spears's influence on the sexuality of teens would've been better spent on worry about the implications of "Oops, I Did It Again" on speech patterns. We'll know for sure that Britney's to blame when women start putting their tongues in front of their teeth to pronounce the "L" sound.
'Vocal Fry' Creeping into US Speech [Science]