Old people find millennial women’s voices ‘annoying’
Uptalk, vocal fry, and millennial women: the unnecessary stigmatization of speech
Every generation has its own speech trends. New slang words come in and out of style at lightning speed, and celebrity-inspired accents and tones become heavily popularized and mimicked. But sometimes these trends encounter harsh criticism from exterior generations. For example, in the current generation of millennials, the use of speech patterns called “uptalk” and “vocal fry” is, by many non-millennials, considered to be quite bothersome.
“Uptalk,” also known as “upspeak,” is speech pattern in which sentences are spoken using rising intonation at the end, which makes the sentences sound like questions. “Vocal fry” is the low, crackly, vibratory sound that occasionally enters a person’s voice, particularly toward the ends of their sentences. Both of these speech trends have become extremely common within the speech of young people, particularly those classified as millennials, and there are many older members of the population who find the use of these trends to be annoying and a reason for their belief that those who use uptalk and vocal fry lack confidence, intelligence, trustworthiness, and reliability in both the professional and personal world.
As a millennial myself, I’ve certainly been “guilty” of using both uptalk and vocal fry on occasion in my own speech. I was first made aware of my use of these trends while taking a linguistics-oriented public speaking class at my university—I had to give a speech on common modern speech patterns, and these were the two I uncovered that I felt best related to my class audience, which was entirely comprised of other students my age.
However, when I brought these trends to the attention of the people in my class and others around my age, most of them had not been previously aware of their existence, let alone of their own use of them in their daily speech. While my fellow millennials were all able to recognize that these trends have become prominent facets of millennial speech patterns, most of them could not understand why these trends were seen by some as problematic.
For many older members of the population, these two trends stick out like a sore thumb. For example, in an April 2016 blog post on a website called Driven Professionals, writer Michael Koehler said that vocal fry “isn’t just annoying to hear, it may brand you as a teenager trapped in an adult’s body, whether you’re being interviewed, making a pitch, or chatting at a networking event,” and that using uptalk “come[s] across as unsure, insecure, and unqualified, regardless of the accuracy of your statement’s content and your level of confidence.” On the millennial side of discussion, journalist and self-proclaimed uptalker Jessica Grose wrote in a 2013 New York Times article that, while formerly hosting a podcast, “I would get nasty comments about my voice, like the following left on the podcast’s Facebook wall: ‘Show has become totally unlistenable due to valley girl/faux socialite voice of your youngest panelist.’ Others would tell me that my manner of speech detracted from what I was saying.”
These trends are particularly common among millennial women. Many who study speech trends attribute their growth in popularity to the rise of pop culture icons like Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian, both of whom utilize uptalk and vocal fry. As more women who use these trends in their speech enter the spotlight and become role model figures for young women, it is believed by many that the trends will continue to grow in their use.
The problem with the judgmental attitude of many non-millennials toward these speech trends is that the stigma being created around them is making it far more challenging for talented, ambitious young women, who may not realize that there is even an “issue” with the way they speak, to have their full potential recognized by potential employers or older superiors.
The way a woman speaks is not necessarily a reflection of her intelligence. In the professional world in particular, it’s wrong to make snap judgments about a potential hire based on the way they speak rather than on their qualifications or prior work experience. Sure, it makes sense for an employer to take use of improper grammar, an apparent lack of knowledge about the job position for which the hiree is applying, or another syntax-related problem of speech into consideration while interviewing someone, but it seems inappropriate to disregard a well-qualified applicant simply because their voice sounds “annoying.” Such judgments are shallow, arrogant, and, frankly, rather immature.
It’s also ridiculous for people to place yet another unnecessary area of judgment on the young women who utilize uptalk and vocal fry just because the sound of either trend isn’t appealing to them. Society has already created an immense number of appearance-based expectations for women, and for some to expect all young women to conform to the speech “norms” of older generations is outdated and foolish. Things change, and people behave differently in each generation. The young women who use uptalk and vocal fry in their daily speech don’t have anything “wrong” with them—they are simply behaving as women of their generation, and even if others find some of their behaviors irritating, they still deserve to be treated with respect.
Though I’ve been fortunate enough to have never encountered prejudice or judgment for the way I speak personally, I’ve seen plenty of adults in my life jokingly mock the way many millennial women speak by using a stereotypical “bratty teenager” or ”Valley Girl” voice that exaggerates the use of uptalk, vocal fry, and other elements common in millennial speech patterns. These adults’ implication is always that the girls who use such speech patterns are obnoxious, vapid, and, oftentimes, just plain stupid.
But this implication is completely unreasonable. I’ve met a great many women my age who, yes, may sometimes speak sentences that sound more like questions and whose voices may occasionally crackle and creak, but who are simultaneously very intelligent, innovative, and highly motivated individuals. Their vocal patterns do not detract from their ability to be talented, contributing members of the population.
Society needs to move away from the negative stigma attached to millennial women who use uptalk and vocal fry—we deserve to be treated with more dignity than simply being defined by others as little more than an “annoying” voice.