One of my first blog postings two years ago (https://boomerbroadcast.net/2013/09/18/hearing-voices/) was about the changing speech patterns and diction used by many people today, particularly young women. Unfortunately, media is turning some of these people loose on the public and it hurts to listen to them. At the risk of generalizing, young women are particularly guilty of speaking with squeaky little-girl voices that make my ears bleed. I know that Melissa Rauch’s voice (she plays Bernadette) on The Big Bang Theory is part of her character, but I can’t stand it. Same goes for Kristin Chenoweth, although, ironically, her singing voice is amazing. Nasal-sounding, thin or high-pitched voices are extremely irritating and it boggles my mind how these individuals get work in radio or television without at least undergoing some vocal coaching. Much as I love The Marilyn Denis Show, stylist Alexis Honce’s voice grates like chalk on a blackboard. Would someone please get the poor girl some help.
Naomi Wolf started a discussion on “vocal fry” criticizing young women for engaging in speech affectations that reflect negatively on their intelligence, ability and character. One example of this is turning a statement into a question with a slight uptick in the tone of voice toward the end of a sentence? Another annoyance is the frequent habit of many people for finishing sentences with y’know? or right? Or injecting like into sentences. Sometimes it becomes almost unbearable to listen to someone being interviewed on the radio or television when they continually punctuate their sentences with y’know or like?.
Not that long ago, we made jokes about “Valley Girl” talk practised by a segment of the female population in California. Sadly, it has now become mainstream. And I agree with Wolf. These voice affectations undermine the ability of an individual to be taken seriously. Perhaps that’s the goal, though it’s not an admirable one. In business, using a firm handshake, dressing tastefully and projecting your voice in a clear and well-modulated tone are recognized assets. Little-girl, squeaky speech patterns are a professional liability just like showing an inappropriate amount of skin. President Jimmy Carter and Queen Elizabeth were both coached early on to lower the tone of their voices to make themselves easier to listen to. Princess Diana even took vocal instruction so her aristocratic background was less evident in her speech patterns and she sounded more like “the people”.
Let’s not forget those annoyingly loud cellphone talkers who think the entire shopping mall or restaurant wants to hear their side of a personal conversation. I had to trek to the other end of Superstore the other day to get away from a woman in the dairy section making baby talk while Skyping to a toddler on her cellphone. Her voice was loud enough to crack the eggs in the nearby cooler.
Years ago I attended Toastmasters™ classes and that provided an excellent forum for feedback on my own speech patterns. We were encouraged to improve our pitch, projection and enunciation while supportively discouraged from using annoying or irritating speech inflections. I hope the current media attention being given to the issue of vocal fry will alert the guilty to their weakness and encourage them to take steps to make themselves “better heard”. Freedom of speech shouldn’t include too much treble, not only in business but particularly in media. If only all women in media could sound like CBC’s Shelagh Rogers. My ears would jump for joy. Speaking of which, would anyone care to hear me sing? I didn’t think so.