Do you have 'TikTok voice'? It's OK if you don't want to get rid of it
Updated February 1, 2024 at 12:11 PM ET
Content creators have formed their own dialect on TikTok — and it's come to be known as "influencer speak," or "TikTok voice." This way of speaking happens when you end sentences like questions and use vocal fry, where speech dips to a low register, making it sound gravelly. (Hear an example from Steve Inskeep and Leila Fadel in the broadcast version of this story.)
"Broadly, this upspeak with talking does have a tendency to suggest hesitancy, questioning, less-than-assured tones, youthfulness," said Laura Purcell Verdun, a speech therapist and communication coach based in Washington, D.C.
She's had dozens of clients come to her with hopes of eliminating these traits from their speech.
"The vocal fry is noisy," Purcell Verdun said. "So if they're in noisy environments, whether it's a restaurant or a boardroom, you need to be able to speak up. You need to have a strong, clear voice."
This accent is not new, but having a word for it, is. Adam Aleksic, who goes by The Etymology Nerd on TikTok, says the trend emerged from the Valley Girl accent.
"It's sort of a prestige dialect on the internet that also helps with platform retention," Aleksic said. "When viewers are listening, they want to keep listening to people when they have [an] uptick in their voice."
Recently, some TikTokkers have been mocking the accent. One of the first to do that was Natalya Toryanski, who makes comedy and lifestyle content. She uploaded a parody video of the "cadence of every bland influencer" in October 2023 after she caught herself doing it.
The video struck a chord — so, she made it into a 19-part series, which has gotten over 23 million views.
"It's something that a lot of people were aware of and perceiving but nobody was really talking about it," Toryanski said.
Research shows the way that young women use language has a major influence on how it evolves.
"However, historically, women have received the brunt of the judgment about using these features of speaking," said speech therapist Purcell Verdun.
She added that everyone can fall prey to the vocal fry and the upward inflections.
"It's not just in the United States and it's pervasive across genders as well," Purcell Verdun said.
Curating a way of speaking online is challenging — beyond just being aware of upward inflection and vocal fry. Content creators Rishika Vinnakota, Daniel Grinspan and Ashley Warren say their friends and family have noticed that they sound and speak differently online versus in real life.
Rishika Vinnakota: Finding her professional voice
"When people meet me for the first time and they've only ever heard or seen me on the internet, it's a really big culture shock to them," said Vinnakota, who posts about her life as a college student at the University of Michigan to her 22,000 TikTok followers.
"They're like, 'Oh, you look exactly like how you do online, but the voice isn't exactly matching up,'" she added.
Last year, she said that she made around $35,000 from brand deals with companies including Beyond Meat, Steve Madden and Brooklinen on social media. Vinnakota posts a mix of personal and branded videos, and has noticed herself doing less upward inflection and vocal fry since becoming an influencer.
"I definitely think it's more professional than what I sound like in real life," Vinnakota said. And, in order to bring in future brand deals, she plans to keep it that way.
Daniel Grinspan: Embracing his eccentric voice
Daniel Grinspan, who calls himself Danbo on TikTok, posts about movies and TV shows to his audience of over half a million. He says his energy level is the main discrepancy between his TikTok voice and the voice he uses with friends.
"I'm a really mellow, you know, low turn guy in real life," Grinspan said. "But on social media, you have to put on that TikTok accent to grab the attention of viewers"
In the first six months of posting on TikTok, Grinspan says he was embarrassed by his content "because what I talk about is really nerdy."
"I would try to sound like I don't care because... I'm not a nerd," he said. "And then over time, when I got more comfortable in my TikTok, I realized that it's okay to be more eccentric and it is better to be more eccentric."
Ashley Warren: Concealing her identity through voice
Ever since D.C.-based content creator Ashley Warren started her account, @ditchthedistrict, she was comfortable speaking in a voice that sounded different from the one she uses with friends. The hard part: getting comfortable talking in a voice that sounds more true to who she is.
Warren posts about life in and around Washington D.C. to her 17,000 followers without showing her face or revealing her name. When she created the account, she intentionally spoke in a different voice to mask her identity from her employer, who she says may not have been on board with the account.
"I just took on this whispery voice and it slowly evolved, mainly due to people making fun of me," Warren said. "But it was very good for engagement because in my early posts, I could guarantee that multiple people would say, 'I love your voice' or, 'I hate your voice' in the comments section."
Now, her TikTok voice is more similar to how she talks IRL, "but it's still different than my real voice in that it's softer and I talk a lot faster."
"And I think that's because, you know, you have like one to two seconds to catch someone's attention."
In order to change the way you sound — such as getting rid of a TikTok accent — speech therapist Purcell Verdun recommends listening back to a recording of your voice. But before you do that, ask yourself — why do you want to get rid of it in the first place?
"It's really about, are you coming across the way you intend? Is your message coming across the way you intend?," Purcell Verdun said. "And if it is, then no adjustment needs to be made."
This story was edited for radio by H.J. Mai and Alice Woelfle, and was edited for digital by Treye Green.
Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.