Girl talk is more than just, like, a SoCal fad

by Sandra De La Torre

Studies show female vocal patterns may convey more meaning and authority than meets the ear. | Chelsea Massey, staff photographer
Studies show female vocal patterns may convey more meaning and authority than meets the ear. | Chelsea Massey, staff photographer

It can be heard almost everywhere. Conversations are flooded with phrases such as, “That is so, like, interesting” and “It’s, like, such a beautiful day outside.” Even with a period at the end, every sentence sounds like a question. What could it be? It’s simple: girl talk.

There are a number of vocal patterns some women utilize that have often been regarded less favorably by society. However, studies show there are specific reasons why females use these patterns. One in particular, called vocal fry, has become prevalent among young American women.

According to Science Magazine, vocal fry, also referred to as glottalization, “is a low, staccato vibration during speech, produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal chords.” While vocal fry is often used by pop singers to reach low notes, a study published in the Journal of Voice found about two thirds of the population sampled use this vocal pattern as it becomes more prevalent in casual conversations.

The study was conducted at Long Island University with the purpose to find how often vocal fry, also called “creaky voice” was used among young American women in college. The subjects of the study were 34 women whose ages ranged from 18 to 25 years old.

There are a number of reasons why experts believe women are using this vocal pattern more.

In a The New York Times article titled “They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Curve,” linguistics lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley Ikuko Patricia Yuasa said women use vocal fry to sound more authoritative.

“They use this as a tool to convey something,” Long Island University study author Nassima Abdelli-Beruh said. “You quickly realize that for them, it is as a cue.”

In another article published by Time Magazine, Yuasa said this vocal pattern is often associated with men, which can be another explanation as to why its popularity has increased.

While some are highlighting the increased use of vocal fry among women and calling it a new trend or fad, other experts explain this vocal pattern is used by all individuals.

“I’d be very surprised to learn that there are any speech communities where vocal fry is not sometimes found in normal, non-pathological speech patterns,” University of Pennsylvania Professor Mark Liberman said in an interview with the Atlantic Wire.

According to Douglas S. Bigham, assistant professor for the Department of Linguistics and Asian / Middle Eastern Languages at SDSU, these vocal patters have been around since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“They’ve become more prevalent in our social awareness lately because within the last decade or so, they’ve moved from California and minority communities into the speech of a broader middle-class American landscape,” Bigham said.

Other factors affecting how people use these vocal patterns include location, economic status and ethnicity.

“For some young women in Southern California, for example, creaky voice — that’s what we linguists call ‘vocal fry’ — has been prevalent for a while, but for other young women in Chicago, for example, they don’t use creaky voice as much but they do change the way they pronounce certain vowels,” Brigham said.

It seems girl talk is not as vapid as some may think.