Vocal fry and up-talk are a part of our lives. A big part, for some. There’s likely some statistic about how common or uncommon it is and when and how it became common and what your grandma and your parents and your boss and your AP English teacher think about it. I know for sure that there is information out there about how listeners FULLY HATED ON some gals from NPR whose vocals inched too close to fry and whose speaking went up in a way they did not approve of. Because I read it and it pissed me off. Like a lot.
As a little kid I wanted to be a reporter when I grew up. I guess like a “journalist” but I was mostly inspired by April O’Neill, of being-in-the-periphery-of-the-teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles fame. I looked up to her because I was obsessed with the ninja turtles and wanted to date Michelangelo (because he ate pizza and had a skateboard…ughhhh so hot), but also because she was a smart and resourceful gal on the beat and I wanted to BE THAT.
April’s yellow jumpsuit and boots were impeccably fashionable but also functional. She was curious and intelligent and also knew how to have fun, and her camera person followed her dutifully and did every thing she said.
SHE WAS LIVING THE DREAM. Well, A dream. MY dream, to be exact.
As a teenager I attended “shoots” at the MTV Beach House in Seaside Heights one summer and I saw another side of television and another type of job I could aspire to – reality TV and live hosting. And I was like, “This is cool AF let’s do it.”
So then I did. The end.
Just kidding because at 18 years old I started my college career at Rutgers New Brunswick and I was pumped up to be a journalism major. I really still had my big April O’Neil dreams in mind.
Rutgers provided a liberal arts education so we didn’t get INTO THE THICK OF IT until senior year, when we split up into groups to ostensibly “make television.” We had a great time running around on the banks of the ‘ol Raritan and made a fun video and I was on camera a bit. But it was during this project that I realized I have an “undesirable for news” voice and also an accent.
There were a few other girls/women in my class working with the same set of New Jersey millennial vocal cords and we were told by our well-meaning professor that we would have to “work with a voice coach and/or an ear nose and throat doctor” to achieve the much desired “mid-atlantic” accent and eradicate our nasally tone.
Wow. That seemed like a lot of work. AND I WASN’T GONNA DO IT. NO FREAKIN WAY. I also realized that if I was going to be on camera I would have to think about what I looked like and how much I weighed for the rest of my life and I was fully not on board. I was already sick of the pressure to look “good” in my cheerleading uniform, a pressure I never felt until those last years of college but it was super annoying and I wanted it to go away.
The cheerleading world is, of course, a loyal and historical stronghold of up-talk, so that didn’t really help me either.
So I retreated behind the scenes. And I loved it! It was great. Working in reality TV as a producer was an interesting, fulfilling, and exciting job and I’m glad I did it. I could gain as much weight as I wanted…AND I DID. I’ve eaten burritos in every state and they were all incredible. We can talk about all that another time though.
What I really wanted to say here is that I think it’s ridiculous that you’re expected to change your voice to sound more “credible.” Like, it’s your voice. You’re conveying the same information. It’s fine. I could understand if you weren’t saying things clearly or people couldn’t understand you, but that’s not what this is about.
This is about the fact that there is a certain way that you NEED to be to deliver the news and you NEED to conform or give up. It’s the idea that one sound/tone of voice or type of accent sets another person higher than another; that they’re smarter, more professional and credible…and also more WORTHY. And I really don’t think it’s cool. Perhaps those gals from NPR broke the mold because they ended up on NPR! I mean people got rude about it, but they still got in the door. And that says a lot.
Personally I love accents. LOVE THEM. I love to hear different regional dialects and the different words they have for things and really break down every nuance of vowel, consonant, and sentence structure (or lack thereof). It’s great! I’ve recently started watching Mare of Easttown on HBO and Kate Winslet has MASTERED the Philadelphia/Delaware County accent and it is a BEAUTIFUL THING. It makes the story and her character FULLER and RICHER and is WAY better than if she was just doing a vague “American” accent. I’m really so impressed.
Different types of speech make the world interesting and relatable and amusing and I expect they would do the same for the news. But I did come across a study that was like, “People hate vocal fry,” so maybe I’m wrong.
But maybe I’m NOT and EVERYONE needs to change their perception and stop with this useless value judgement. The tone or sound or accent associated with a person’s voice doesn’t mean anything about how “intelligent” or “trustworthy” or “credible” they are. This is my place to say the things I’m thinking about so there I said it.
And I’m not changing my voice. I will NEVER change my voice. And you shouldn’t either. As long as you have a good vocabulary and you talk about things that are interesting and I can understand you…NO CHANGES NECESSARY. EVEN IF YOU’RE ON NPR. thx.