A curious vocal pattern has crept into the speech of young adult women who speak American English: low, creaky vibrations, also called vocal fry.More at the link. You can hear a subtle example of vocal fry in this segment from This American Life (broadcast on NPR), but the best example I have found is the speech of "Grammar Girl" (click here to listen, because I don't know how to embed) (hat tip to Redditor maryjayjay).
Pop singers, such as Britney Spears, slip vocal fry into their music as a way to reach low notes and add style. Now, a new study of young women in New York state shows that the same guttural vibration—once considered a speech disorder—has become a language fad.
Vocal fry, or glottalization, is a low, staccato vibration during speech, produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal chords*. Since the 1960s, vocal fry has been recognized as the lowest of the three vocal registers, which also include falsetto and modal—the usual speaking register.
Speakers creak differently according to their gender, although whether it is more common in males or females varies among languages. In American English, anecdotal reports suggest that the behavior is much more common in women. (In British English, the pattern is the opposite.)
Historically, continual use of vocal fry was classified as part of a voice disorder that was believed to lead to vocal chord* damage. However, in recent years, researchers have noted occasional use of the creak in speakers with normal voice quality...
The researchers also plan to test students in high schools and middle schools to learn why young women creak when they speak. "Young students tend to use it when they get together," Abdelli-Beruh says. "Maybe this is a social link between members of a group." Abdelli-Beruh also wants to compare the prevalence of vocal fry on radio stations. For example, she says that the popular-music station on her teenage son's dial features creaky announcers, but she does not hear vocal fry on National Public Radio, which targets an older audience.
I've heard this speech pattern, never paid any attention to it, and now probably won't be able to "unhear" it.
*A big "sic." It drives me crazy when science publications misspell vocal cords.
p.s. - does anyone know why it's called "fry"? Is it because it creates sort of a sizzling sound??