The Voice of YouTube

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that YouTube is a video-sharing website growing in popularity since it was founded in 2005. But do you know just how influential this website is becoming?

In 2014, the University of Southern California conducted a survey among 13-18 year-olds in the United States. The teens were asked to rate the influence English-speaking YouTube stars and “traditional celebrities” had on them. The top 5 places on the list were taken by YouTube stars. In 2015, they conducted the survey again and this time, YouTubers took the top 6 places; they were ranked even higher than some of the most influential celebrities like Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift. Yes, T-Swift.

There is another interesting phenomenon among YouTubers: they all seem to have the same voice. Julie Beck wrote an article about this in December for The Atlantic. The article describes how Julie began noticing certain commonalities between the way YouTubers enunciate and pronounce their words. She lists several examples of YouTubers that speak in this “bouncy” way, including Tyler Oakley, Franchesca Ramsey and Hannah Hart. Julie decided to investigate; she spoke with a linguist named Naomi Baron who not only agreed with her, but also actually explained the components of what she calls the “YouTube voice:”

  1. Overstressed vowels
  • Ehxample
  1. Sneaky extra vowels
  • This example is tericky
  1. Long vowels
  • Exaaample
  1. Long consonants
  • Exammmple
  1. Aspiration
  • Exampuhle

Additional techniques used by YouTubers include changing their speaking pace, moving their head and hands, raising and lowering their eyebrows, and even opening their mouth more.

This is not only an effective way to keep an audience, it’s also a popular way of speaking. Naomi Baron says, “Things become stylish. That happens with language all the time.” Hosts of TV Newscasts and satires, such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, can also be found speaking this way.

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YouTube did not invent this way of speaking, however. Another linguist named Mark Liberman calls it the “intellectual Used-Car Salesman voice” or the “talking to the audience voice.” The example he gave was of a carnival barker shouting to people passing by to attract them to their carnival booth. Since they had only their voice and their words, they had to make what they were saying as enticing as possible. This principle also applies to YouTubers and salespeople that perhaps have only themselves and a camera, or themselves and a car.

Speaking with this voice is common, whether a person is making a sales presentation, selling a car or talking to a camera. There’s a reason it’s becoming more and more popular: it works. Just ask some of these YouTube stars’ millions of viewers:

Name YouTube Channel # of Subscribers (approximate)
Felix Kjellberg PewDiePie 40 million
Ian Hecox & Anthony Padilla Smosh 22 million
Benny & Rafi Fine Fine Brothers 14 million
Olajide Olatunji KSI 11 million
Lindsay Stirling Lindsay Stirling 7 million

These young stars are also making a lot of money with their YouTube channels; Felix Kjellberg earned about $10 million last year, for example. So what could these videos possibly be about, you ask? Certainly, it is not only their voice and speech mannerisms which earn them this kind of fame, right? Well, Felix’s videos, for example, consist of his commentary on videogames he plays. To see what other famous YouTube celebrities are doing, you will just have to watch for yourself.