A linguist explains the “YouTube voice”

A linguist explains the “YouTube voice”

YouTube stars employ a watered-down, carnival-barker style of annunciation to keep viewers interested, says Julie Beck of The Atlantic, who asked to Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, to explain what’s going on. Baron identified the following distinguishing components of the YouTube voice:

  • Overstressed vowels – “eh-xactly” instead of “exactly.”
  • Sneaky extra vowels between consonants – “terraping” instead of “trapping.”
  • Long vowels – “fiiive” instead of “five” for emphasis and bounce.
  • Long consonants – “fffascinatingly” instead of “fascinatingly”
  • Aspiration – puffing more air to make a word stand out.

So it turns out the “YouTube voice” is just a variety of ways of emphasizing words, none of which are actually exclusive to YouTube—people employ these devices in speech all the time. But they generally do it to grab the listener’s attention, and when you’re just talking to a camera without much action, it takes a little more to get, and keep, that attention. All the videos I used as examples in this article come from popular YouTube accounts, with hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers—in other words, from people who know how to engage an audience.


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