Mind, Technology, and Society Talk Series

Marc Garellek
Assistant Professor of Linguistics, University of California, San Diego
Time/Date: 3-4:30 p.m. Monday, August 31, 2015

Chancellor’s Conference Room, KL 232

What is creaky voice (“vocal fry”), and why do we use it?


Creaky voice – often called ‘vocal fry’ – is a voice quality that is characteristically low and irregular in pitch. Its occurrence in American English is thought to be increasing, but what is it really, and why do we use it? In this talk, I first describe recent research showing that, while creaky voice is prototypically low and irregular in pitch, not all types of creaky voice share these features. For example, some types of creaky voice are low-pitched but regular, whereas others are irregular but not low-pitched. Voices perceived as ‘creaky’ can therefore be creaky in different ways. Moreover, studies show that some of these subtypes of creaky voice are perceptually distinct to listeners.

In the second part of the talk, I claim that speakers might use specific subtypes of creaky voice to enhance, i.e. render more perceptually salient, certain sounds. I provide an overview of studies showing that languages often have creaky voice co-occurring with certain sounds, such as syllable-final /t/, short or stressed vowels, and low tones. I argue that this is not coincidental: the articulatory and acoustic qualities of creaky voice are particularly well suited to enhance those very sounds. Therefore, creaky voice can be beneficial to language users, whose use of the voice quality as an enhancement strategy may be linked to systematic patterns of sound change across languages of the world.

Suggested reading:
Garellek, Marc. 2015. “Perception of glottalization and phrase-final creak.” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137(2):822-831.

Marc Garellek is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at University of California, San Diego. As a phonetician and speech scientist, Garellek is broadly interested in the mapping between speech articulation, acoustics, and perception, focusing in particular on how these mappings pertain to the voice, and on the role of the voice in conveying linguistic meaning. His work has covered a wide range of languages, notably English, Korean, Tongan, Mazatec, and White Hmong. Garellek completed his Ph.D. in Linguistics at UCLA in 2013, and is originally from Montreal, Canada. His website is http://idiom.ucsd.edu/~mgarellek/Home.html.