Sore throat

Updated 01 July 2016

Talking like a Kardashian could hurt your vocal cords

You’ve probably never heard anything like it, but talking in a low voice like a Kardashian could really damage your throat and voice.

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You may not even be aware that you’re hurting your throat, but you are, and it’s called “vocal fry”.

So why is this low-pitch way of talking so popular?

According to experts, this speech affectation results from pop culture, as personified by the Kardashians. Young people hear them and try to emulate their voice quality. Doctors say that this can become habit, with dire consequences to the vocal cords

Kim Kardashian (fry begins at 5 seconds) 


Kourtney Kardashian perfectly demonstrates what vocal fry sounds like:

Vocal fry explained

Speech pathologists call this low creaky vibration produced by the fluttering of the vocal cords a disorder that borders on vocal abuse. Vocal fry is the lowest of the four registers of the human voice. Our voice is produced by air passing through a set of soft flaps in our voice box known as the larynx. Air moves past these flaps, which can move at a rate of 100 to 1,000 vibrations per second.

Our voices have four registers – from lowest to highest:

- Fry

- Modal

- Falsetto

- Whistle

Most people will speak in the modal range, and if you listen carefully you can tell when they switch registers, especially while they’re singing. As you speak, the cords vibrate smoothly, but vocal fry slams them shut, allowing only bubbles of air to break through, which is why this register sounds so creaky.

In 2012, the Journal of Voice released a study of young women aged 18–25 who habitually spoke in this register. The debate about vocal fry has been simmering for years, but it came to a head when the prominent, feminist author Naomi Wolf wrote about it in The Guardian.

What does vocal fry look like on video?

The following video is a demonstration of vocal fry. The patient first starts in modal register (normal clear voice at speaking pitch) and then pushes down to vocal fry. She later goes back to modal register.

From a medical perspective, the amount of force used to produce fry can potentially damage the vocal cords over time, leading to lesions, polyps, cysts and other problems that may require more aggressive intervention, even surgery, warns Dr Nicole Maronian, ENT-otolaryngologist in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Dr Maronian is affiliated with University Hospitals Case Medical Centre and says she’s seen increasing numbers of vocal fry cases in young women.

The question is can vocal fry be reversed? Doctors say it is absolutely reversible but you would have to catch yourself doing it first.

Dr Tracey Newman, speech language pathologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Centre in Cleveland, Ohio says that she teaches girls how to correct vocal fry by increasing breath support, and using some techniques known as forward focus therapy or resonant voice therapy. 

Treatment is however tailored to the individual patient, and a laryngologist can determine how best to treat the vocal fry. In the light of all these problems, talking like a Kardashian may be one thing you do not want to be keeping up with.

Read more:

Why you can’t stop clearing your throat

How to treat your sore throat

Stop your sore throat quickly