Hypatia 36 (1):42-59 (2021)

Julia Bursten
University of Kentucky
Vocal fry is a phonation, or voicing, in which an individual drops their voice below its natural register and consequently emits a low, growly, creaky tone of voice. Media outlets have widely acknowledged it as a generational vocal style characteristic of millennial women. Critics of vocal fry often claim that it is an exclusively female vocal pattern, and some say that the voicing is so distracting that they cannot understand what is being said under the phonation. Claiming that a phonation is so distracting as to prevent uptake of the semantic content of an utterance associated with it is an extreme reaction, especially when accompanied by demands for women to change their phonation. We argue that this reaction limits women's communicative autonomy. We analyze the extreme reaction to female vocal fry, which we characterize as a non-content-based response, from the perspectives of philosophy of language, feminist epistemology, and linguistics. We argue that when fry is heard as annoying and distracting, it is because the hearer interprets the speaker as echoing an utterance from a position of authority to which she is not entitled. We show that this reaction encodes conscious or unconscious sexist attitudes toward women's voices.
Keywords Vocal Fry  Feminist Philosophy of Language  Acoustics
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Reprint years 2021
DOI 10.1017/hyp.2020.55
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