Learn to silence vocal fry and other bad speech habits
By William Hageman, Chicago Tribune (MCT)
Published: September 7, 2013
In a recent television interview, Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said “y’know” 72 times in three minutes.
In a way it was refreshing to hear that long-infuriating verbal crutch resurrected with such gusto, because “y’know” has been largely eclipsed by even more unnerving verbal tics these days.
We have uptalking, where the speaker ends each sentence with a rising intonation that makes everything sound like a question. We have the unnamed-habit where women who’ve seen too many Disney cartoons speak with a Minnie Mouse-like squeak. Then there’s the leading linguistic scourge of today, vocal fry.
It’s a fingernails-on-the-blackboard phenomenon characterized by a speaker lowering his or her voice to an unnaturally low frequency at the end of a sentence. It has been seen (and heard) for decades, but has gained currency via the Kardashians.
“These are just speech patterns that may be popularized by some famous people kids look up to,” says Claudio Milstein, a speech scientist with the otolaryngology department at Cleveland Clinic. “The good thing is most kids outgrow it.”
A speech scientist with clinical interests in laryngology and voice disorders, Milstein says that vocal fry and these other speech blips have been going on for centuries. They have been seen “in every single culture. Maybe today because of access to the media it’s more pervasive. But kids imitating ways of speaking that go with cultural shifts is nothing new.”
Expressions such as “you know” and “like,” he says, “are like crutches to fill gaps when there’s not much concept behind it.”
These vocal quirks drive people — mainly older people — crazy. And when “older” people are the ones doing the hiring out in the real world, sounding like a creaking gate or using “y’know” 72 times in three minutes may not be the best way to launch a career.
“These things give an impression to the listener that the child is less intelligent,” Milstein says.
When Brander is working with clients in television or the corporate world, she sees a variety of vocal issues — poor inflection and vocal tone, pitch, pace and volume problems, among them.
“Some people have patterns of speech and/or regionalisms that could limit their current job or future job prospects,” she explains. “Younger women sometimes end sentences with an upward inflection, a questioning tone, which makes them sound unsure and immature. Both young men and women sometimes pepper their sentences with ‘dude’ and ‘like’ without realizing it’s unprofessional.”
Brander points out that in a job interview, a person has minutes or maybe only seconds to make a favorable impression.
“Young people entering the job market already have a deficit and must overcome their age and lack of experience. If they come across as immature and uneducated due to poor speech habits, their job prospects will be seriously limited.”
Milstein suggests that parents and educators stress the importance of proper communication, an interest in literature and having good role models. Let a person know that these negative forms of communication are less effective and make listeners think of them as less bright than they actually are. Of course, you can tell young people these things, he points out, but “kids will do what kids want to do.”