Young Women Using New Speech Inflection — It’s Called ‘Vocal Fry’

4 Mar

You’ve almost certainly heard the “vocal fry” inflection in conversation. You might even use it yourself. But you probably aren’t familiar with the term, nor that it has become a cultural phenomenon.

You know that creaky, gravelly voice that is most commonly used by – but not exclusive to — high school girls and young women, especially at the end of sentences. That’s vocal fry.

Many young women are regularly using a gravelly, croaky speech intonation called 'vocal fry.'

Many young women are regularly using a gravelly, croaky speech intonation called ‘vocal fry.’

It may be the 21st century successor to other forms of youthful speech patterns that became commonplace during the late 20th century. Remember that totally gnarly “Valley Girl/Surfer Dude-speak” of the 1980s? But the fry might have more widespread use than that California-centric speech pattern.

It is in many ways the opposite of the “up turn” mode of speaking that makes declarative sentences sound like questions. The upturn has been frequently used in the United States – certainly during the last half century. With fry, the tone actually goes in the opposite direction, toward a lower-than-normal pitch.

Lesley Wolk, associate professor of communication disorders at Southern, was the lead investigator of a research project conducted in 2011 while she served as a faculty member at Long Island University. She, along with two of her colleagues, had found that about two-thirds of the 34 female students between the ages of 18 and 25 who participated in the study habitually used fry when speaking. The results were published in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Voice.

“It was interesting that most of them said they had no idea they were talking that way,” she says.

Wolk says she was involved in a follow-up study of 34 male students at Long Island University in 2013, but that the results were strikingly different. Very few of the young men used vocal fry.

“Although it’s not exclusively used by young women, they seem to use verbal fry more frequently than young men or older individuals,” she says.

Wolk says she first became aware of vocal fry when working with people who had vocal cord problems. The actual term was first used to describe a vocal pathology, she says.

“But I noticed that as they became teenagers, my daughters and their friends were speaking with the fry,” she says. “At the same time, as a faculty member, I would hear this speech pattern in my interactions with students, as well. So, I became interested in studying this phenomenon.”

Wolk says there are different theories as to why this is happening. “Some people believe that it originated as a way to emulate pop stars, such as Brittany Spears and Kim Kardashian, who are known to use fry when performing,” she says. “Another hypothesis is that the deeper pitch is a way for young women to be taken more seriously, or to be heard. And others say it’s used by teen girls and young women to be accepted as part of a peer group, in much the same way that slang is used by young people.”

She notes that her study shows that fry is generally used at the end of sentences, occasionally in the middle of sentences, but rarely at the beginning.

Wolk would like to pursue additional research on this subject. “My research was conducted in New York,” she says. “And I know there has been a study done in California that also showed use of vocal fry. But I would like to see if this pattern is also something we would hear frequently in the South or the Midwest.”

She also would like to examine the potential physical effects on the vocal cords from habitually using fry, as well as various socio-cultural questions. “Many people – especially older adults — find this tone unappealing,” she says. “I wonder how much it affects the perception of individuals who speak this way.”

Fictional ‘Star Wars’ Planet With Two Suns Not So Far-Fetched Anymore

18 Feb

It turns out that George Lucas might have inadvertently crossed the line between science fiction and science when he created the planet Tatooine in the iconic “Star Wars” saga.

While the concept of a planet orbiting two suns was intended to be fictional, modern astronomy has found that such planets actually do exist in the cosmos.

Nearly half of planets discovered in the Milky Way Galaxy are believed to be part of 'binary solar systems,' meaning there are two suns in the solar system. In some cases, these planets orbit both suns. In this photo, two white dwarf stars located about 1,600 light years from Earth orbit each other. Image credit: NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

Nearly half of planets discovered in the Milky Way Galaxy are believed to be part of ‘binary solar systems,’ meaning there are two suns in the solar system. In some cases, these planets orbit both suns. In this photo, two white dwarf stars located about 1,600 light years from Earth orbit each other.
Image credit: NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

The Kepler mission – whose aim is to find Earth-like planets in parts of the Milky Way Galaxy – recently discovered that 40 to 50 percent of these bodies are actually part of binary solar systems. In other words, those planets are part of solar systems with two suns, rather than one.

The team of scientists that made this finding was led by Elliott Horch, professor of physics at Southern.

“Most of these planets are probably not like Tatooine, where the planet orbits twin suns that are close together. They generally orbit only one of the two stars, with the second star slowly orbiting the system at a much greater distance,” Horch says.

But Horch concedes that at least a small percentage of the Earth-like planets in these binary solar systems do orbit two suns. In some cases, that could result in planets having constant or near constant daylight.

Nevertheless, even for the large majority of planets that only orbit one of the two suns, their nighttime skies could be brighter than ours.

“This would mean that during the day on the exoplanet, the closer sun would dominate, but at night there would be an especially bright star — a night sun — that hangs in the sky,” Horch says.

If nothing else, it might eliminate the need on these planets for daylight savings time to give children some light while waiting for the school buses in the morning.

Horch developed the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI) several years ago for the National Science Foundation. The telescopic device provides astronomers with stunningly crisp images of outer space, and is being used by the Kepler mission.

He is currently developing a portable multi-channel intensity interferometer, which essentially is a double-barrel telescope that would generate ultra-high resolutions with even more detailed information about celestial bodies.

“With my previous instrument, the DSSI, it was like putting eyeglasses on a telescope,” he says. “This new project will be like remaking the whole eye.”

Construction of this new device, like DSSI, is being funded by the NSF.

New Planet Runs Rings Around Saturn

4 Feb

Move over, Saturn. It turns out you have a distant cousin – one that is much larger, much younger and carries a lot more “bling.”

Astronomers recently discovered what appears to be a young giant planet with breathtaking rings in a distant solar system more than 400 light years away from Earth. Their findings have just been accepted for publication in the prestigious Astrophysical Journal.

Saturn (pictured above) is known for its rings, but another planet more than 400 light years away is believed to have rings that are 200 times are large. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Saturn (pictured above) is known for its rings, but another planet more than 400 light years away is believed to have rings that are 200 times as large. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

The astronomers – the University of Rochester’s Eric Mamejek and the Leiden Observatory’s (The Netherlands) Matthew Kenworthy – say the three dozen or so rings span nearly 120 kilometers – roughly 200 times the size of Saturn’s.

The planet – referred to as J1407b – has a mass estimated at between 10 and 40 times that of Jupiter, which is the heaviest planet in our solar system.

The discovery has caught the attention of Elliott Horch, a noted astronomer and professor of physics at Southern.

“This is another signpost along the journey that is going on in astronomy right now in the area of exoplanets – planets that orbit other stars besides the Sun,” he says. “How diverse the menagerie of planets that we know about is becoming!

“Imagine being close to this planet and having its rings take up a big chunk of the sky,” he adds. “What a sight that would be!”

Indeed, astronomers say that if Saturn had rings of the magnitude of planet J1407b, they would be visible with the naked eye in our nighttime sky. In fact, the rings would appear larger than the moon, despite being much further away from Earth.

The findings indicate there are gaps between some of planet J1407b’s rings, leading to a theory that moons have been formed from the rings, just as it is believed that many of Saturn’s 60 or so moons were created this way. Astronomers believe Saturn’s rings were also much larger early in its own life, before some of the material from the rings left to form moons.

Astronomers say that while Saturn’s rings are composed of ice, J1407b has rings probably made of dust since the planet’s temperature is believed to be far too hot to have ice rings.

Saturn, which has been around for about 4.5 billion years, is an old timer compared with the relatively youthful J1407b – a planet for a mere 16 million years or so.

Hey Saturn, maybe you can take the newbie under your wing…er, ring.

Eeeew! It’s Not Just People Who Love Money — Bacteria Do, Too

21 Jan

It shouldn’t cause you to worry about catching the flu. But at the very least, it may make you want to wash your hands every time you go for your wallet.

Dollar bills are loaded with bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

Dollar bills are loaded with bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

A study conducted by a class taught by Elizabeth Lewis Roberts, assistant professor of biology at Southern, showed that dollar bills are chock full of germs – including the presence of fecal coliforms, such as E.coli, the microbe known for causing digestive distress. It also showed an abundance of Penicillium fungi, which is a type of mold that you might see on old bread or other foods.

“We also tested for Salmonella, but the good news is that we didn’t find that type of bacteria on the bills,” Roberts says. “Nevertheless, money is contaminated with microbes. While it shouldn’t come as a surprise, the study reinforced the need for people to wash their hands after touching it. When you think about how many people have touched the money, it only makes sense.”

The research was conducted nearly two years ago and was overseen by Roberts. She says the students studied $1 bills from a bank, a store and one other place. The bills were printed in 2003, 2006 and 2009, and the hypothesis was that the oldest bills would be covered with the most bacteria since they have been in circulation for a longer period of time.

“That turned out to be true, but the majority of fecal coliforms were actually found on the newest bills,” Roberts says. “So, don’t think fresher dollar bills are free from these microbes.”

Nevertheless, Roberts says the results are no reason for panic.

Various studies similarly have shown many bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms live on dollar bills. Yet, their presence on our currency has not created an epidemic, even though it theoretically could do so.

“The truth is we live in a microbial world,” she says. “They are all around us, on us and in us. Touching money covered in microbes is no more harmful than touching anything else. But it should send us a message that we probably need to wash our hands more often than we do, especially after handling money and before eating.”

And, of course, if a wash room is not available, using a hand sanitizer may be the next best thing.

The Wright Patterson Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, produced a study last year that might be of interest. It also shows that microbes are present on dollar bills in abundant numbers.

A study by New York University shows similar findings.

Still love money?

Younger Generations Driving Change in Doctor-Patient Relationship

9 Jan

The Millennial Generation – known for its disdain of hierarchical structures and preference for collegiality – is becoming a catalyst for changes in the doctor-patient relationship, as well.

So says Kimberly Petrovic, assistant professor of nursing at Southern, who also has 14 years of clinical experience in the nursing field. She has been a registered nurse in three states – Tennessee, Oregon and for the last 11 years, in Connecticut.

For those of you of a younger vintage, peppering your doctor or nurse with questions may seem like second nature. But to your parents or grandparents, such questioning was more the exception than the rule.

Millennials and Gen Xers are changing the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

Millennials and Gen Xers are changing the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

“Traditionally, most patients did not ask a lot of questions of their doctors, and rarely challenged a diagnosis or medical advice,” Petrovic says. “In general, we still see that with the older generations – the Baby Boomers and especially the pre-Baby Boomers (Traditionalists).
“But times are changing, and I’ve seen significant changes over the last 14 years. The Millennials (adults in their early 30s and younger) are more questioning than the older generations and seek more interpersonal collaborations with their health care providers – whether it be doctors, nurses or nurse practitioners. Gen Xers (those generally in their mid-30s to 50) also grew up questioning everything, so the combination is leading to a different dynamic in those relationships.”

Petrovic notes that she has seen more people – especially Millennials and Generation Xers (the generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials) – checking out their symptoms or diagnoses online, often before they talk with their health care provider.

“Some doctors and nurses fear that a little information can be a dangerous thing in the hands of those who are not medical experts,” she says. “And you do have to be careful not to put a lot of credence in questionable websites. But there are some very reputable websites that can be helpful for patients when understood in the right context.”

She points to: www.webmd.com and www.mayoclinic.org as two examples of valuable medical websites.

The key is to understand the context of what you are reading. For example, you may have a pain in your left arm. And a heart attack may be one of the possibilities, but it’s also a symptom of a sore muscle or tendon. If in doubt, checking with a medical professional is usually wise.

“I believe patients should play an active role in their health care,” Petrovic adds. “Medical experts should be respected for their knowledge and experience. But patients shouldn’t be discouraged from educating themselves, or discussing what they found with their doctors.”

Petrovic says she also is seeing somewhat of a change from the professional side, as well. As the younger generations become medical professionals themselves, there is a greater propensity for them to be more comfortable with a “circle dynamic,” rather than the traditional, semi-authoritarian approach.

“These are generalizations, of course, based on generations,” she says. “Certainly, there are many exceptions. Some older medical workers are very adaptable and willing to approach their patients in a more collegial manner. And some younger people in the medical field may be less tolerant. But as a whole, the generational differences that we see in society – at school, at work, at home – are gradually influencing the medical field, as well.”

Petrovic adds that these societal changes coincide with easier accessibility to one’s medical records in recent years. While a person’s medical records have always been available, the greater use of electronic records has made the process of checking one’s medical history easier for many patients.

Turning the Page on 2014; Happy 2015!

17 Dec

As 2014 marches inexorably toward its expiration, thoughts begin to turn to the new year.

A fresh beginning. A clean slate. A time for renewal.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

The very first post in Wise Words, “Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Alive (At Least Past Groundhog Day),” appeared on Jan. 1, 2013. It offered suggestions on how to keep those resolutions beyond the initial enthusiasm. We all know it’s much harder to stay focused on Day 10 and Day 20 and Day 50, than it is in the immediate afterglow of “Auld Lang Syne.”

You might want to check out this post If you haven’t read it — or even if you would like to look at it again.

We have some insightful posts planned for 2015 that we believe you will find interesting to read.

See you in 2015!

Practical Ways Parents Can Spark Love for Reading in Their Kids

3 Dec

Most parents know that getting their children to read at a young age is important to their future. It’s so important, in fact, that experts say if kids fail to be at or near the reading levels of their peers by third grade, they face a tougher road in school and in life.

But what specific steps can parents do to spark an early interest in books?

Julia Irwin and Dina Moore, associate professors of psychology at Southern, say that one of the keys is to incorporate reading as the centerpiece of many activities and discussions, starting before they head to kindergarten.

Reading to your children  -- even during their infancy -- is an important first step in helping kids develop an early interest in books.

Reading to your children — even during their infancy — is an important first step in helping kids develop an early interest in books.

Reading to your children — even during their infancy — is an important first step in helping kids develop an early interest in books.

“Discussing books together creates a time for your child to share their thoughts, worries and ideas with you, to practice new words that they have learned from the book, and to discuss conflicts and concepts that arise in the book,” Irwin says. “By talking about the perspectives and feelings of favorite characters, children learn to better understand others’ and their own feelings.”

Dealing with emotions, such as fear and sadness, in an appropriate way can be addressed through reading. For example, Irwin points to a book such as “Dog Heaven,” by Cynthia Rylant, as providing a starting point for a conversation after losing a pet.

For a child who has first day of school or daycare jitters, she recommends reading a book such as “Curious George’s First Day of School,” by Margret and H.A. Rey or “The Hello Goodbye Window,” by Norton Juster.

The authors note that another way in which books can be relevant is by planning an activity around a book. For example, parents and their children can read “Gingerbread Man,” and then make gingerbread cookies together. Or, reading “Make Way for Ducklings” can be followed up by a trip to the local park to see ducks.

Irwin points out that the social and emotional development of kids can be influenced by reading, as well as the obvious academic benefits. “Kids can learn to take turns and to listen to others through reading,” she says. “That ability to self-regulate is an important lifetime, social skill.”

They share many ideas in their book, “Preparing Children for Reading Success: Hands-on Activities for Librarians, Educators and Caregivers,” published recently by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

“We have a literacy crisis in this country, despite having the research to know what works when it comes to teaching reading,” Irwin says. “It is important to put the theoretical into practice. That’s what we sought to do in this book.”

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