Linguist Breaks Down the 'YouTube Voice'

Stressed and elongated vowels both play a role
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2015 7:00 PM CST
Franchesca Ramsey in one of her YouTube videos.   (YouTube)

(Newser) – Think people sound similar when talking to the camera on YouTube? You're not alone: Writing at the Atlantic, Julie Beck found a "bouncy" speaking style across so many videos that she christened it the "YouTube voice." "But I had a hard time putting my finger on exactly what 'it' was," she writes, "beyond a vague sense of similarity." So she brought in Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor from American University, to help identify components of YouTube voice:

  • Stressing vowels—like "eh-xactly" instead of the usual, lazy, middle-of-the mouth sound "euh" (hear it here) that people usually use with "exactly."
  • Additional vowels—like "terraping" instead of "trapping" (hear a PBS Idea Channel guy, Mike Rugnetta, do it here at 35 seconds).
  • Longer vowels—like turning "five" into "fiiiive," as Franchesca Ramsey does here.
  • Longer consonants—including the way "fascinatingly" becomes "fffascinatingly" in this Vlogbrothers video.

These examples all come from popular YouTube accounts, Beck notes, so the speaking style clearly works. Maybe they picked it up from more informal news broadcasters like Jon Stewart (who uses YouTube voice in this clip). "What's interesting is how similar people end up sounding, rather than sounding like themselves," Baron tells her. "In an attempt to make yourself sound special, you end up sounding like this whole genre of other people." Read more about YouTube voice in Beck's article—or check out these six YouTube stars who are making millions. (Read more YouTube stories.)

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