I’m in the process of creating a female character who speaks with vocal fry. But I’m not sure how to translate that to the page. Or if I should.
What is vocal fry you ask?
Technically, it’s vocalization characterized by a low, creaky voice usually at the end of sentences. Physiologically it happens when air pushes up from the lungs causing the vocal folds (tissue on either side of the voice box) to quickly slap together.
Yep, it’s not an exciting description. I would snooze through that passage in a story.
This speech pattern seems to be the trend for upwardly mobile young women in America. Some female celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Zooey Deschanel, and Lacey Chabert have it. Many college-bound women also employ the creak.
One researcher theorized that it could be a way for women to compete with men by using a lower pitched voice which connotes authority. Indeed, younger men and women think that females with vocal fry sound authoritative. However, the creaky voice can irritate older people who believe it distracts from the message.
But, wait! Some men speak with vocal fry and nobody has complained or even noticed. This American Life host Ira Glass said that he uses it. So does academic Noam Chomsky. People don’t criticize their vocal quality. (A double-standard? What a shock.)
Perhaps I should create a young male character with vocal fry instead of a female? Hmmm
I’m no stranger to unusual ways of speaking. I developed a New Jersey/Bronx accent with a Southern twang when I was seven years old. (My family moved often.) I’m told it was truly hideous. I remember my usually easygoing father saying, “No daughter of mine will talk like that.” Eventually my parents had me repeat nursery rhymes every night before bed while they corrected my one-of-a-kind accent.
There are numerous accents and dialects in the United States. I love actress Marisa Tomei’s heavy Brooklyn accent in My Cousin Vinny and the soft Southern drawl of television interviewer, Charlie Rose. Their accents are fun to hear but could be tricky to write. If written with a heavy hand or incorrectly, a writer could alienate a reader.
Then there is the rare Tangier Island, Virginia dialect which still has remnants of Old English. Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay is believed to have been discovered by Captain John Smith in 1608 and claimed by the British. Because the island is isolated, much of the dialect has remained. Some people believe it’s Elizabethan but others think it’s from the Cornwall region of Southwest England. The islanders also employ “backwards talk” where people say one thing but mean the other. For instance, “she’s ugly” actually means “she’s pretty.”
I wouldn’t even know how to begin to write dialogue spoken by a person from Tangier. Not that it will matter for much longer. Due to satellite and computers, the island’s younger generation is losing the unique dialect and their speech is becoming more like standard English.
Have you heard unusual accents or speech patterns?Would you write about a character with vocal fry?