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Wall Street Women Invented ‘Vocal Fry’

Today’s Science Times has a fascinating piece that has everyone today growling about the way young women speak.

Ashley Kalinske

It turns out that linguistic trends often start with teenage girls.

The cliché is the way Valley Girl speak spread from a clique of girls in the San Fernando valley to, like, totally take over the American discourse for a few years. Gnarly.

The latest trend among teenage girls, according to the Times, is the “vocal fry.”

Here’s the Times:

The latest linguistic curiosity to emerge from the petri dish of girl culture gained a burst of public recognition in December, when researchers from Long Island University published a paper about it in The Journal of Voice. Working with what they acknowledged was a very small sample — recorded speech from 34 women ages 18 to 25 — the professors said they had found evidence of a new trend among female college students: a guttural fluttering of the vocal cords they called “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.” …

Reading about speech habits can be a bit annoying. If you aren’t familiar with the Vocal Fry, the best example I can think of is Zoey Deschanel. She’s a habitual Vocal Fryer and I suspect that a lot of the Vocal Fry trend can be traced back to here. Here’s a video of her and her New Girl castmate Hannah Simone, also a V.F. perpetrator.

Those of you who work on Wall Street, however, may recognize this as the way senior women at investment banks talk. It’s ubiquitous among senior and mid-level women, and less common with junior staff.

If you are skeptical of that claim, watch this recruiting video from Deutsche Bank. A group of women sit around a table discussing their careers at Deutsche Bank. The first women to speak is identified as “Jane, managing director.” Every word she says is raspy, nearly croaking.

Analyst Erica does it occasionally. Christen the analyst doesn’t do it at all—in fact she seems to slip into “uptalk” at times, making declarative sentences sound like questions. Director Stephanie rasps.

Suzanne the analyst croaks. And so on.

Notice, also, that the women all have great hair and makeup.

In short, I think that this Vocal Fry trend is an instance of Wall Street invading Main Street. Young American women have picked up on a way of talking found in a very small clique of wealthy and powerful women who work in finance. Which isn’t really that surprising.

The researchers seem to be at a loss for what women are trying to communicate through Vocal Frying. I think the answer is simple and obvious. It’s a way of presenting seriousness, intelligence, and determination without sacrificing femininity.

Also, it’s much, much preferable to making every sentence sound like a question.

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