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  • Gwen

What is Vocal Fry?

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

In the United States we speak English, but we don't all sound exactly the same when we talk. There are a number of different accents and what we call sociolects within the states. Those sociolects are a little bit like dialects with characteristics from different regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups. Sociolect. Nice word.

General American (GenAm) or Standard American English (SAE) is English without these regional distinctions or accents. It is the English which is heard predominantly from Hollywood and the News Broadcasts. My very own state of California used to have the honor of being an area where Standard American English was spoken. Sadly we have lost our position. In the 1970's Valspeak (Valley Girls from the San Fernando Valley - "and, like, gag me with a spoon!") began creeping in followed by Surfer Lingo and Skateboarder Slang. There was also the advent of Up-Talk where a statement terminates with a rise in intonation as in a question. This has been popular among psychologists and psychiatrists such as Henry Cloud and John Townsend, and other counselors.

And now, getting to Vocal Fry. To further distance my beloved state from its original SAE status, we have a new speech pattern aberration called Vocal Fry. And just what is vocal fry, you may ask? It is a trend among high school and college age women in America, and Californians have grabbed it. It is a slightly lower, raspy, sustained sound made at the back of the throat. The trend has been popularized by certain television celebrities on Gray’s Anatomy and the Kardashians. This video gives you an example of vocal fry. It also expresses my sentiments about it. Also listen here for a sample of Up-Talk.

All these trendy affectations and their accompanying vowel shifts have caused California to lose its esteemed position of Standard American English. The location of SAE now goes to the states of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. You can see the location on the map. I’m a little sad about this. But, life goes on.

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