What is 'YouTube Voice?' A Linguist Breaks it Down


Watch a few YouTube videos, and you’ll probably notice that a lot of the vloggers, web show hosts, and miscellaneous YouTube celebrities sound similar. They share verbal emphases and intonations that are identifiable, if hard to pin down. After noticing the use of what she calls "YouTube Voice," Julie Beck at The Atlantic decided to investigate the new dialect the internet had seemingly invented. 

In a recent article, Beck spoke with Naomi Baron, a linguist at American University who specializes in electronically mediated communication. Baron confirmed that YouTube celebrities do, indeed, share a similar style of speaking. She broke the YouTube voice down into identifiable components which include overstressed vowels, elongated words, aspiration, and stretched-out vowels.

YouTube celebrities often emphasize words by overstressing or even adding in vowels, Baron explains. Elongating words, and pronouncing each letter, are both ways of grabbing a listener’s attention.

Baron explains that adding in an extra vowel allows a speaker to drag out a word: “It adds an extra syllable to the word, it emphasizes the word. There’s a name for this: epenthetic vowel.” While there are plenty of reasons to use an epenthetic vowel (for example, they’re sometimes used for comic effect, as in Yogi Bear’s pronunciation of “pic-a-nic basket”), Baron believes that on YouTube, they're used to keep listeners entertained and listening.

Baron explained that YouTube voice isn’t a totally new way of speaking. Rather, it employs a variety of attention-grabbing strategies that have traditionally been used in other media. “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,” Beck writes. “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.”

Beck also spoke with linguist Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania, who confirmed Baron’s analysis, calling YouTube voice “intellectual used-car-salesman voice.”

“You get the same kind of thing in other high-energy sales pitches,” Liberman explained. “I guess the purest form of this style is the carnival barker.”

Check out the fascinating Atlantic article for the full linguistic breakdown of YouTube voice (with plenty of video examples, like the one below) here

[h/t: The Atlantic]