Actress and director Lake Bell recently told New York magazine that when a woman uses what she calls ”sexy baby voice” or “squeaky-toy voice,” it’s a major friendship deal breaker. What is this voice, you ask? It’s when a woman employs the vocal fry in combination with other bad vocal habits. The vocal fry is a linguistics phenomena made popular in the last few years mostly by younger women (I’m looking at you, Kardashian Klan). But, I have to ask, is the vocal fry really all that bad?
Bell said she has been ”personally ruptured and unsettled” by this language trend. “Not only is it pitch, so really high up, but it’s also a dialect, it’s like a speech pattern that includes uptalking and fry, so it’s this amalgamation of really unsavory sounds that many young women have adopted,” she said.
Ending a sentence on a higher note, typically done when asking a question, does connote insecurity and women do often use it. “If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional, or even stupid,” said Carmen Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. However, the vocal fry, which is a low, staccato vibration during speech produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal cords, is not always considered negative. It can sometimes be strategic. “The truth is,” Fought said, “Young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.”
CNBC Senior Editor John Carney claims that Wall Street women should actually get the credit for the vocal fry. “It’s ubiquitous among senior and mid-level women, and less common with junior staff,” he wrote. New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson is supposedly a prime example of this vocal tick.
In 2011, University of Iowa Assistant Professor of Japanese Sociolinguistics Ikuko Patricia Yuasa published a study in American Speech that looked at women’s use of “creaky voice.” She cited past studies that have linked creaky voice to men and higher status; some researchers in the 1980s even deemed it “hyper-masculine” and a “robust marker of male speech.” Yuasa suggested that it could be a way to compete with men by taking advantage of the attributes associated with a lower-pitched voice. “Creaky voice may provide a growing number of American women with a way to project an image of accomplishment,” she said.
The vocal fry may be the way to go, but, be advised, there are those who find it quite annoying and continue to criticize women for raising the pitch of their voice and lowering it. The one rule that should always be followed? Do not, under any circumstances ever, use a baby voice. This has always been, and will always be, a no-no. Instead of altering your voice in a manner that might not be well-perceived, try these quick tips for effective communication at work:
1) Speak up: Increase your volume, but not your pitch. Speak both loudly and firmly when you want to be heard. Don’t wait to be called upon. This isn’t school. This is your career.
2) Don’t say “Yes, but”: This completely undermines whatever you’re saying.
3) Watch your body language: Don’t tilt your head and use your hands too much. It takes away from your message. Also, make very solid eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking. You can read about more tips on body language here.
4) Get to the point: Don’t skirt around the issue with weak words and constantly asking everyone what they are thinking. Make your point known at both the opening and the conclusion of the conversation and presentation.
Does a co-worker’s vocal style annoy you? Are you in the process of resolving the issue? Ask Fran Hauser for her advice on conflict resolution!