Quick Summary:

When we're creating sounds, the way that we let the air flow out from our lungs and through our vocal folds in the larynx makes a huge difference in the noises we create. In past episodes, we've talked about the distinction between voiced and voiceless sounds. But what actually underlies that difference? It's in how we set out vocal folds: if we close them completely, we get a glottal stop; if we let air flow through freely, we get a voiceless sound; and if we place them together so that air pressure from below pushes them apart and then pulls them back together in a regular cycle, we get voicing.

But there aren't the glottal states that we can set our vocal folds in to create sounds. We can let them be looser when we're voicing, not closing them completely, and letting air escape alongside the voicing. That creates an airier sound, known as breathy voice. Or we can hold them more tightly closed, keeping them more shut at the back, and letting air more intermittently through the front. This means the vibrations produced occur less often than normal voicing, making the pitch seem lower. It also means that the sound produced is less regular, with a characteristic breaking quality that we refer to as creaky voice. And because they're to do with how we voice our sounds, any voiced sound can be produced with either breathy or creaky voice, as well.

These intermediate states that the vocal folds can take on aren't used very widely cross-linguistically to represent meaningful differences, meaning they're not usually phonemic. But they both can be: swapping a regular voiced sound for a breathy one in Hindi or Newari will change the meaning, as will switching in a creaky one for Danish or Mazatec. But even in languages where it's not a phonemic distinction, both still get used. In particular, creaky voice in English shows up at the end of sentences quite often, as well as being a marker of the speech of many young women. While this usage among women is often demonized, there's nothing wrong at all with creaky voice! It's not harmful in the least. So go ahead and make your breathy and creaky noises all you want - it's all how we go about vibrating!



So how about it? What do you all think? Let us know below, and we’ll be happy to talk with you about how we make sounds, and how we set our vocal folds to do it. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to say, and we want to hear what interests you!

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