The Downside of Upspeak and Vocal Fry

vocal-fryWarning: Upspeak and vocal fry could hinder your career.

If you’re like me, you just tried to say that sentence aloud using both vocal inflections and found you can’t. They’re contradictory; the first flips everything up an octave into a question (?), the second grinds down at exaggerated length.

But both have come to mark a vocal line in the sand between young and old, at least here in the Western world.

The topic of generation-specific voice mannerisms has presumably been around since the first cave son muttered, “Uh-guh.” Today’s elders were yesterday’s hippies, with their own unique intonations, pronunciations and exclamations: far out, groovy, bum trip, funky, gross, ad infinitum. Their colorful language was similarly discouraged in corporate settings of the day.

What’s changed, in a word, is the Internet.

Without it, societal consideration of these two youthful inflections might have gone no further than the film “Valley Girl” or Jimmy Fallon’s “Ew!” sketches. But with it, controversy has engulfed these vocal identifiers as never before, triggering serious-minded debates over the potential health risks of vocal fry, and whether criticism of both in women is inherently sexist.

While physiological studies confirm that overuse of vocal fry in youth may adversely affect the normally-higher female voice later in life, sociological research suggests that it also may impede your professional life as well.

A 2014 study by the University of Miami and Duke University found that test subjects would widely prefer to hire persons of both sexes who spoke in their natural pitch and timber rather than those who engage in vocal fry. The reason? Most said they felt those using vocal fry to be less trustworthy, especially if the speaker was female.

The problem with upspeak, however, is that many people, especially in the 40+ age group, find those who perpetually turn declarative sentences into questions to be less credible, intelligent and serious-minded than those who do not.

What, if anything, to do about it? There lies the vocal rub.

As a meeting planner, one of life’s unwavering goals is inclusion. One gathers others together by making a multitude of personal compromises – in clothing, grooming, decorum, speech and discretion – all toward the greater good of filling the house.

Arguably, potentially annoying or polarizing vocal mannerisms of any kind may be best left at home as well, at least in a profession that depends so heavily on personal interaction. After all, you wouldn’t curse freely in a professional setting, would you?

Just as no one should ever sacrifice their individuality to fashion or trends, one should never hold on to fashion or trends that impede their personal or professional growth.

One final thought: While it is instinctive in youth to sound young to belong, and tempting in middle age to sound relevant, the wise meeting planner should strive to sound timeless.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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