‘Vocal fry’: How it works and how it can be harmful

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Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and your average millennial all adopt the same creaky, guttural voice, and apparently there’s a scientific term for it: vocal fry.

When we speak, air is pushed from the lungs and through the windpipe. There, it passes through the vocal cords — two strips of tissue that control voice pitch and quality.

Dr. Reena Gupta wrote on the Osborne Head and Neck Institute website that humans have three vocal registers: modal, falsetto, and fry. Modal is when we speak naturally. Falsetto is the register with the highest frequency. It involves the vocal folds being pulled tight with only the edges vibrating.

The lowest of the registers is fry. It occurs when the vocal cartilages are squeezed tightly. The cords themselves remain loose and floppy, rattling against each other when air passes through, resulting in a creaky voice.

In recent years, the fry has been a hot topic for debate.

In an article published on the University of Virginia’s media relations unit website, otolaryngologist Dr. Jim Daneiro cautions that the amount of force used to produce the fry can potentially damage the vocal cords over time, leading to lesions, polyps or cysts.

But from a linguistic point of view, there is not much cause for concern. A New York University article references Stanford linguist Penny Eckert, who surveyed 500 adults and found that while the over 40 bunch were bugged by the fry, those 39 and under weren’t. This suggests that culturally, there is nothing harmful about vocal fry. It may simply be language changing and adapting to fit the needs of the younger set.

RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. How the voice works
2. Modal and falsetto registers
3. Vocal fry
4. Potential damage caused by vocal fry

VOICEOVER (in English):

“When we speak, air is pushed from the lun gs and through the windpipe. There, it passes through the vocal cords — two strips of tissue that control voice pitch and quality.”

“Humans have three vocal registers. Modal is when we speak naturally.”

“Falsetto is the register with the highest frequency, and involves the vocal folds being pulled tight with only the edges vibrating.”

“Fry is the lowest, and occurs when the vocal cartilages are squeezed tightly. The cords remain loose and floppy, and vibrate irregularly when air passes through, resulting in a creaky voice.”

“From a medical perspective, the amount of force used to produce the fry can potentially damage the vocal cords over time, leading to lesions, polyps or cysts.”


SOURCES:
Boston Globe, University of Virginia, Osborne Head and Neck Institute, American Academy of Otolaryngology, New York University
https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2013/10/20/health-answers-what-vocal-fry-and-harmful-your-voice/RfX0YTqWpWJSglZiloyJAJ/story.html
https://news.virginia.edu/content/what-s-voice-debate-over-vocal-fry-and-what-it-means-women
http://www.ohniww.org/katy-perry-voice-vocal-fry/
http://www.entnet.org/content/how-voice-works
https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/nyu-stories/lisa-davidson-on-vocal-fry.html