Vocal Fry (Creaky Voice)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Vincent Price
David Crystal notes that American actor Vincent Price (1911-1993) "produced excellent creaky voice in his especially menacing moments" (A Dictionary of Language, 2001).

 Allied Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In speech, the term vocal fry refers to a low, scratchy sound that occupies the vocal range below modal voice (the most commonly used vocal register in speech and singing). Also known as vocal fry register, creaky voice, pulse register, laryngealization, glottal rattle, and glottal fry

Linguist Susan J. Behrens describes vocal fry as "a type of phonation (vocal fold vibration) whereby the vocal folds start to slow down and beat irregularly before closing, toward the end of an utterance. This behavior causes a rough voice quality, a lowered voice pitch, and sometimes a slower rate of speech. All contribute to make a speaker's voice sound creaky or raspy" (Understanding Language Use in the Classroom, 2014).

Examples and Observations

  • "Creaky voice involves a raspy quality of voice produced by reducing the amount of air passing through the vocal cords, which results in a non-pure or non-clear tone. It . . . carries a pragmatic meaning, often signalling the end of a turn, and is associated with younger female speech . . .."
    (Sandra Clarke, Newfoundland and Labrador English. Edinburgh University Press, 2010)
  • "Is your little princess sounding more like a frog? Speaking in a croaky voice, officially called 'vocal fry,' has become normal among young women, new research published in the Journal of Voice finds. (Say 'Whaaat' as if you're suffering from a very sore throat and you've got the sound.) But regularly talking this way could cause long-term vocal cord damage. Which means these women could end up not saying much at all." (Leslie Quander Wooldridge, "Croak Addicts." AARP Magazine, April/May 2012)

"Vocal Wrongness"?

"The most recent trend in vocal wrongness is called 'vocal fry.' Vocal fry is created when someone slips into a lower tone, usually at the end of a sentence, and this tone has a 'fried' or 'creaky' quality. Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian are infamous for this way of speaking, but research indicates men tend to speak with this raspy flaw as well. And vocal fry is on the rise, with two-thirds of college students in one study displaying it. The problem with using it is it conveys a sense that you're not confident, or in some cases, sure of what you are saying." (Lee Thornton, You're Doing It Wrong!. Adams Media, 2012)

Young Women and Vocal Fry

"A classic example of vocal fry, best described as a raspy or croaking sound injected (usually) at the end of a sentence, can be heard when Mae West says, 'Why don’t you come up sometime and see me,' or, more recently on television, when Maya Rudolph mimics Maya Angelou on Saturday Night Live.
"[L]inguists ... cautioned against forming negative judgments.
"'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. 'The truth is this: Young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.' ...

"'It’s generally pretty well known that if you identify a sound change in progress, then young people will be leading old people,' said Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, 'and women tend to be maybe half a generation ahead of males on average.' ...

"So what does the use of vocal fry denote? Like uptalk, women use it for a variety of purposes. Ikuko Patricia Yuasa, a lecturer in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, called it a natural result of women’s lowering their voices to sound more authoritative.
"It can also be used to communicate disinterest, something teenage girls are notoriously fond of doing."
(Douglas Quenqua, "They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve." The New York Times, February 27, 2012)

Vocal Fry and Meaning

"[V]oice quality changes contribute to meaning at many ... linguistic levels. Creaky voice (or vocal fry) often signals prominence within a sentence, the presence of linguistic boundaries like ends of sentences, or major changes of topic..." (Jody Kreiman and Diana Sidtis, Foundations of Voice Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Voice Production and Perception. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

Creaky Voice

"Like breathy voice, creaky voice is also used as both a tool for age, gender, and social distinction, and for phonological contrast with some of the world's languages.
"There is a minimum fundamental frequency below which modal voicing can no longer continue--usually about a quarter of a person's average speaking fundamental. At this point the nature of phonation changes and the speaker begins to use creaky voice, also known as laryngealization or vocal fry. The term stiff voice has also been applied to a variety of phenomena that partially resemble creaky voice. In creaky voice, the vocal folds are very shortened and slackened to maximize their mass per unit length, and the IA muscles are contracted to draw the arytenoid cartilages together. This action allows the vocal folds to stay together for a much longer part of the phonation cycle than in modal voicing . . ., only allowing a tiny burst of air to escape between long closure periods." (Bryan Gick, Ian Wilson, and Donald Derrick, Articulatory Phonetics. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

The Great Unnamed

"[W]e have no shared public language through which to speak about the voice or sound, in contrast to the wide vocabulary that we've developed for visual images. Sounds are still part of the great unnamed. Back in 1833 the American physician, James Rush, tried to identify different kinds of voices--whispering, natural, falsetto, orotund, harsh, rough, smooth, full, thin, slender. By the 1970s phoneticians hadn't moved much beyond Rush in naming different types of voice. The terms they had come up with--like whispery voice, harsh voice, creaky voice, tense or lax voice--were never taken up by the public. Neither was more specialist terminology, like vocal fry, jitter, or shimmer, words which anyway have no agreed definition. We're in a state of terminological disarray, and few of us are able to describe the voice in words that aren't either impressionistic or ambiguous." (Anne Karpf, The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent. Bloomsbury, 2006)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Vocal Fry (Creaky Voice)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/vocal-fry-definition-1692491. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Vocal Fry (Creaky Voice). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/vocal-fry-definition-1692491 Nordquist, Richard. "Vocal Fry (Creaky Voice)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/vocal-fry-definition-1692491 (accessed June 7, 2023).