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Apr 17 2013
How vocal fry affects women in the church.

Even if you've never heard of "vocal fry" or "upspeak," you probably hear people speak in these patterns every day.

Vocal fry is when someone's voice gets lower and turns gravely, usually drawn out at the end of a sentence. It's the sound of the next generation: in a study published in the Journal of Voice, more than two-thirds of female college students spoke with vocal fry. The low, guttural affectation has been dismissed—mostly by old guys —as annoying and unprofessional, blamed on eye-roll-inducing celebs like Zooey Deschanel, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, and the Kardashians. Fast Company warns that vocal fry could "kill your job search" and ruin phone interviews.

This is just the latest speaking trend for American women. There's also upspeak, which is when? People talk? Like every phrase is a question? That's on top of our overuse of "like," Valley-Girl talk, and the higher register of the female voice.

Women talk differently by social nature and biology, and they're the ones most likely to adopt new vocal patterns, linguists told the New York Times. Faced with criticism over the way we talk, women have to examine how these patterns may become problematic (that is, if they make our communication less effective) or if the criticism is misguided (and the result of underlying gender biases).

When we talk about women's "voices" in Christianity, we usually mean it figuratively. In this case, their actual voices influence their roles across society, including the church.

Kathryn Lester serves alongside female pastors at Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in Durham, North Carolina. Word got around that some older couples left the congregation because they "couldn't hear" the message from the pulpit each Sunday, putting the pastor's voice—and gender—at fault.

"It's something I've been tuned into for years," said Lester, who learned to speak louder, slower, and clearer while working as a chaplain with the elderly after graduating from seminary at Princeton University. "I would take it seriously when people complain they can't hear you… but it's not just women who can't be heard."

Princeton's speech and preaching courses recognize the new cadences of young voices, male and female, she said. Some seminaries are now creating special courses for women in ministry that focus on a fast-talking, like-ridden generation.

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