DUDE, YOUR VOICE SUCKS, Y’KNOW

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE -

her voice to an un­nat­u­rally low fre­quency at the end of a sen­tence. It has been seen (and heard) for decades, but has gained cur­rency via the Kar­dashi­ans, Amer­ica’s first fam­ily of va­pid­ity.

“Th­ese are just speech pat­terns that may be pop­u­lar­ized by some fa­mous peo­ple kids look up to,” says Clau­dio Mil­stein, a speech sci­en­tist with the Cleve­land Clinic. “The good thing is most kids out­grow it.”

A speech sci­en­tist with clin­i­cal in­ter­ests in laryn­gol­ogy and voice dis­or­ders, Mil­stein says that vo­cal fry and th­ese other speech blips have been go­ing on for cen­turies. They have been seen “in ev­ery sin­gle cul­ture. Maybe to­day be­cause of ac­cess to the me­dia it’s more per­va­sive. But kids im­i­tat­ing ways of speak­ing that go with cul­tural shifts is noth­ing new.”

Ex­pres­sions such as “you know” and “like,” he says, “are like crutches to fill gaps when there’s not much con­cept be­hind it.”

Joni Bran­der, a Chicago-based TV tal­ent coach and cor­po­rate pre­sen­ta­tion trainer (thetv­coach. com), agrees with Mil­stein that vo­cal fry has been around for a long time, but she points out that young peo­ple are pick­ing it up again as a form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“It’s one thing if a singer uses it to high­light var­i­ous notes, but quite an­other if used in con­ver­sa­tion,” she says. “Be­sides be­ing an­noy­ing and im­ma­ture, vo­cal fry is very hard on your vo­cal cords, if over­done.”

Worse is pop­u­lar cul­ture’s im­pact on singers, Mil­stein says. Shows such as The Voice and Amer­i­can Idol have spawned a new gen­er­a­tion of singers who are im­i­tat­ing peo­ple they see on TV, some­times to their detri­ment.

“It’s a style of singing called belt­ing. (They sing with) a lot of power. If you don’t do it in the right way this can cause in­juries to the vo­cal folds (mem­branes in the lar­ynx). We see a num­ber of young singers who do this with no train­ing and they do dam­age.”

Th­ese vo­cal quirks drive peo­ple — mainly older peo­ple — crazy. And when “older” peo­ple are the ones do­ing the hir­ing out in the real world, sound­ing like a creak­ing gate or us­ing “y’know” 72 times in three min­utes may not be the best way to launch a ca­reer.

“Th­ese things give an im­pres­sion to the lis­tener that the child is less in­tel­li­gent,” Mil­stein says.

When Bran­der is work­ing with clients in tele­vi­sion or the cor­po­rate world, she sees a va­ri­ety of vo­cal is­sues — poor in­flec­tion and vo­cal tone, pitch, pace and vol­ume prob­lems among them.

“Some peo­ple have pat­terns of speech and/or re­gion­alisms that could limit their cur­rent job or fu­ture job prospects,” she ex­plains. “Younger women some­times end sen­tences with an up­ward in­flec­tion, a ques­tion­ing tone, which makes them sound un­sure and im­ma­ture. Both young men and women some­times pep­per their sen­tences with ‘dude’ and ‘like’ with­out real­iz­ing it’s un­pro­fes­sional.”

Mil­stein sug­gests that par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors stress the im­por­tance of proper com­mu­ni­ca­tion, an in­ter­est in lit­er­a­ture and hav­ing good role mod­els. Let a per­son know that th­ese neg­a­tive forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are less ef­fec­tive and make lis­ten­ers think of them as less bright than they ac­tu­ally are. Of course, you can tell young peo­ple th­ese things, he points out, but “kids will do what kids want to do.”

Bran­der says par­ents should set the bar by es­tab­lish­ing guide­lines and in­sist­ing on proper speech at home. That way, even if a teenager em­ploys slang and other shoddy lin­gual habits with his or her friends, the child will know the dif­fer­ence when it re­ally counts, such as in a job in­ter­view.

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