By James Harbeck
Teenagers aren't the only people who make annoying speech sounds. You do, too. Everyone does.
You probably don't make all of these sounds, but I bet you do at least a couple of them every so often. Watch a demonstration of these in the video below. And try to cut it out, would you?
1. Final rising tone
"Uptalk." Everyone hates it, it seems, because it turns everything into a question. But everyone does it at least now and then to indicate that something still needs to be filled in. Some people use it quite a lot as a way to draw the other person in without actually expecting a response — sort of like a "y'know?" It can be a sign of insecurity or concern that the other person might tune out. Unfortunately, it tends to increase the likelihood that the other person will tune out. Best to keep it for when you're leading to a key bit of information, or when the other person's direct inclusion is truly pertinent.
2. Final creaky phonation
"Vocal fry." The latest "OMG this new thing these kids do is going to destroy language!" But it's not new, and it's not going to destroy anything, though it can wear on the vocal cords after a while. Where uptalk seems to overplay the stakes, this closing drawl can seem to underplay — very forced-casual, perhaps also forced-mature. Everyone does it from time to time, often when being particularly dry or conclusive. If you watch videos of people complaining about vocal fry, you are likely to hear them do it themselves without noticing. They just don't over-do it. Short and subtle is the way to go, and not more than once every couple of minutes.
3. Fortis voiceless alveopalatal fricative
"Ssssshhhhhhh!" If you've ever been to the opera or ballet, you've almost certainly heard this, probably more than once, even all the way across the auditorium. Someone is murmuring or humming or something — annoying to those within five feet but not disruptive beyond that. So a person near them, rather than tapping their shoulder and asking nicely if they could stop, makes a sound that is up to 100 times as disruptive and is probably heard by the performers on stage. Congratulations: In your righteous indignation and desire for an undisturbed performance, you have disturbed the performance even more and have become the most disliked person in the theater. Don't do it again.
4. Velar-ingressive linguadental fricative
"Sucking your teeth." Often this is to the side, not right in the middle. It can signify something like "Stand back, I'm thinking — can't you smell the smoke?" I plead guilty to doing this whenever something irritates me. I've found it's better than the impulse it replaced, which was to say something vulgar. But I'm told it can be annoying.
5. Pulmonic-ingressive breathy-voiced rising-tone neutral vowel
"Gasp." In particular the gasp that some people make when they're a passenger in a car and they see something that seems to them might be an impending accident. It usually is not, but the gasp itself may cause the driver to flinch or otherwise react in a way that could increase the likelihood of an accident. If you do this only rarely and only when truly warranted, it will be taken seriously. If it's a habit, you may find yourself walking more often.
6. Fortis long final consonant with epenthetic neutral vowel
"Don't-tuh do this-suh." This has lately become a thing people observe and comment on. It's a way of emphasizing a point with dripping distaste, irritation, contempt. I used to hear this sort of thing from TV and radio announcers sometimes — for instance, at the beginning of Law & Order: Criminal Intent: "the major case squaddih." Make it a little longer and stronger on the "d" and more of a descending tone on the vowel and you get "squad-duh," and you're no longer an announcer, you're a peevish person. And an annoying one too.
7. Pulmonic ingressive voiceless alveolar glide and mid-central vowel, with optional unreleased final bilabial stop
Inhaled "Yeah" or "Yep." This is something that seems to be more common in some areas than in others. It's a guarded, thoughtful-seeming, perhaps stoic way of expressing assent or agreement. And it turns out to be really irritating to some people. I'm guess those people would prefer something more like "mm-hm."
8. Sustained mid-central vowel and/or bilabial nasal
"Uhhh… uhmmmm… mmmmm…" A noise some people use while talking if they're trying to formulate their next sentence and don't want you to start talking while they're still doing so. It's similar to just holding their hand up in front of your face while they pause. By the time they actually start forming words, you're already impatient, and you can feel pretty certain that the words they formulate will not make you less impatient. If you're the one doing this and you can't make your brain formulate speech more quickly and concisely, try saying something like "Also one other thing…" In the pause, the other person might say "Yes?" But you'll be keeping them in suspense rather than just droning them to an impatient sleep.
9. Alveolar, alveopalatal, or postalveolar click
"Tongue-clucking." Specifically in disapproval. Often done with a slight upward detour of the eyes. Someone else has done something one simply doesn't do, darling, and we're not the sort of person who would actually voice disapproval — how base — but, you know, tsk. In short, an impatient, self-regarding, passive-aggressive condemnation. If you do this, try just… not… doing it.
10. Loud long low back vowel with advanced tongue root and full oral opening
"Moose-call yawns." Not exactly a speech sound, but a sound that deliberately obtrudes and takes over the environs. It takes a simply bodily function — yawning — and turns it into an announcement, an excuse to dominate everyone within earshot for a moment. I had a roommate who did this all the time. He thought it was funny. Maybe if we had been in a frat house… but people are expected to get over reveling in bodily noises and using them to dominate the conversation once they become adults.
Listen to me demonstrate these sounds in the video below:
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