If you’ve listened to our episode about vocal fry, you might have questions about what vocal fry really is. (If you haven’t, please download it here. And if you like it, please subscribe!)
What is “phonation”? When we speak, we manipulate many parts of our mouth; this includes the larynx and vocal cords (also called vocal folds). When we use vocal fry, our larynx is compacted and the vocal cords become slack, which creates a lower frequency. When we use falsetto, our vocal cords are stretched, creating a higher frequency. More information can be found here.
What is the larynx? The larynx is the part of the body that contains the vocal cords. It’s also known as the voice box.
What are the vocal cords/folds? They are mucous membranes that can be opened and closed – and when they vibrate, they create our voice. (The sound that passes through the vocal cords can be further modified by moving parts in your mouth, like your tongue or lips.) Here’s a visual from Gray’s Anatomy:
Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body
There are videos of the vocal cords in movement, including a very short one of vocal fry, and a longer one involving screaming and singing:
Warning: some people find videos of the vocal cords a bit disturbing, so be forewarned.
You mentioned that some languages have creak as part of their language. How does that work? Jalapa Mazatec (an Oto-Manguean language spoken in Mexico) has 5 vowels (i, æ, a, o, u). (The æ is pronounced like the a in ‘ash’, and the a is pronounced closer to the a in ‘father’.) These base vowels can be modified by tone, nasality, length and phonation type. I’ll just focus on two values for phonation (modal vs. creak) here, since that’s the relevant feature for us. The near minimal pair below shows the contrast between modal vowels and creaky vowels:
‘dirty’ ‘holiday’ (Silverman et al. 1995: 72)
The /i/ in si ‘dirty’ is not creaky, and is produced with modal voice (the plain phonation type). (It also has mid tone.) The /i/ in sḭ́ ‘holiday’ is produced with creaky voice (~ vocal fry). (It also has high tone.) It matters which phonation you use, or else you will say the wrong thing – like the difference between ‘sip’ and ‘ship’ in English. If you use the wrong sound, you are saying a different word.
What are some popular examples of vocal fry in the media? People really like to complain about vocal fry. So here are just a couple that we found either hilarious or obnoxious. (Spoiler alert: everyone who complains about vocal fry USES IT.)
Speaking of that, you said that Bob Garfield has vocal fry and that you had the receipts to prove it. I asked Megan to answer this question:
I mentioned in the podcast that Bob Garfield, previously of Lexicon Valley, vocal fried while he complained about women vocal frying. Here’s the (elementary) science. Disclaimer: The below is an analysis done by a non-phonetician (me). Phoneticians, forgive my superficial analysis. Also feel fry to let me know if there is an easier way to use Praat to prove fry!
A characteristic of vocal fry is irregular pitch (or more technically, the fundamental frequency… Pitch is the perceptual correlate). Vocal jitter and shimmer are two ways to measure this irregularity.
Vocal Jitter = frequency perturbation; normal voices are usually less than 1% frequency variability
Bob’s vocal jitter was 3.159%. (lololol)
Vocal Shimmer = amplitude perturbation; a mean cycle-to-cycle amplitude difference of 0.7 dB or less variation or less than 7% of mean amplitude is normal
Bob’s vocal shimmer was 8.659% or 0.869 dB. (lolol ^ 2)
I put purplish arrows to point out the variability of Bob’s fundamental frequency/pitch. You can also see him go down down (below 75hz) at the very end. I don’t have good enough evidence of Bob’s modal or “normal” voice, or if he, in fact, always creaks, so I can’t make a direct comparison, but going that low is pretty canonical “frying”.
In this second image you can see that Bob’s fundamental frequency (the blue line) goes all the way down to 59.62hz: the mostly agreed-upon “normal range” for men’s fundamental frequency is from 85 to 155 Hz. This is a very low fundamental frequency and that = frying.
Where can I find your TEDx talk? You can watch it here.
If you have any questions or comments – especially if something isn’t clear – please let us know here, or by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on twitter @VocalFriesPod or instagram @vocalfriespod or on facebook at Vocal Fries Pod. Send us your questions or suggestions for possible topics!