ByJoCo June 11, 2010

I asked on Twitter, but nobody seems to know the answer with any certainty, so my guess is that there isn’t one. There’s a funny voice that people do, usually for cute and/or annoying animal-like characters in cartoons and movies. A partial list of these characters includes: Glomer from the Punky Brewster cartoon, The Shmoo from various Hanna-Barbera disasters, Gizmo from Gremlins (that’s a falsetto version), Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, Bibble from the various Barbie Fairytopia movies (what? some of those Barbie fairies are hot). I want to know if there’s a technical name for this kind of voice, maybe something from a dark corner of a linguistics text, and I want to know what’s happening in my cranio-facial blabbitybloo when I do it.

Twitter responded to me with a few facts and theories: this might be hypernasality, it might also be a pharyngealized nasalized falsetto, the talent is not limited to men (though I can’t think of a female example in a movie or cartoon). It feels like making an R sound but more so. Something with the soft palatte?

Why is there not a written history of this technique and all its practitioners? We haven’t even invented a name for it? What is the internet good for if not for this?

I need an answer people.


Pooki says

I hope this site can help you with what you are looking for.

Francis Jansen U. says

If you're trying to find the voices for the voice actors (if not, well, time well wasted)

Stitch from Lilo and Stitch:
Glomer from It's Punky Brewster:
Gizmo from Gremlin: (Howie Mandel)
Bibble from Barbie Fairytopia movies: (Lee Tockar)

Video(s) of how to voice act for cartoons (skills needed; no name specified for this kind of thing):
Video(s) of how to voice act for cartoons (tips):

Hope this helps.

Thecipher says

Can't give you a straight answer on the name of the technique (if it has any), but I would suggest looking into Frank Welker ( I distinctly remember him using that technique for several of his animated appearances. Also, this is the guy who voiced Gizmo.

I'm sure a bit of google-fu would be able to reveal several interviews and such that can point you to an answer.

ZapDevil says

Oh dear god, this is going to show up in a new song, isn't it?

foobar300k says

On a completely unrelated note, why don't you make a song about Gliese 581 c and the possibility of humans traveling there? I listened to some of your space songs and they're all awesome, so... yeah.

Kevin M says

Re: Thecipher:

Gizmo was voiced by Howie Mandel.

Thomas says

This sounds like the sort of thing that someone at the Language Log would know about, assuming there is an answer.

winegeek says

It is closer to HYPOnasality (where the vocal resonance is not in the nasal cavity, but in the oral cavity).

In the case of these cartoon voices, hyponasality is created when the tongue is retracted while you are articulating sounds (that is why you mentioned the "r" sound...say a normal "r" and then say it while retracting your tongue toward the back of your throat). If you speak while your tongue is retracted, you can emulate these cartoon voices.

I'll call this "Hyponasal lingual retraction." It is not a typical characteristic of English phonology, so we really don't have a name for it.

FWIW, I am a Speech-Language Pathologist, but you may refer to me as a cunning linguist...

Ink Asylum says

If it doesn't have a name yet, it should be called "Welkering" after the famed voice actor Frank Welker, who does that kind of thing all the time.

TWiG says

not sure of the name of the technique .. I picked it up as a little kid from the movie "The Black Cauldron" ..

"mmmm munches and crunches"

Still do the voice for my kids all the time.

Stacey says

When I was a voice major in college, they showed us a video in Vocal Pedagogy of a laryngoscope used on an actor who did voices for cartoon characters. When he did the kind of voice you're talking about, the epiglottis rose and covered over the larynx completely, making a resonating space low in the throat. That's what makes the swallowed sound. I think we should call it an epiglottal voice.

Fancycwabs says

Lore Sjöberg referred to it as "The Frank Welker Squeaky Voice." it's the voice of Slimer from Ghostbusters, Nibbler from Futurama, Glomer, Uni from Dubgeons & Dragons, etc., etc. There may be a technical term for it, but you'll communicate it effectively by calling it the Welker Squeak.

June says

I think Stacey wins. :P

Craig says

You could ask the guys who run this site:

winegeek says

Sorry to nit pick, but I feel compelled to clarify for accuracy (since this is my area of expertise after all)!

Stacey is on the right track, but....

The epiglottis is "up" when you breathe and vocalize. It is not lowered during these activities as Stacey stated. The epiglottis lowers when you swallow; by lowering, it covers the larynx and trachea so you don't aspirate.

It is physically impossible to vocalize with the epiglottis lowered! Vocalization happens when air from the lungs rises through the larynx and vibrates the vocal folds (vocal chords). The air travels into the oral and nasal cavities BECAUSE the epiglottis is elevated and opens the airway. If the epiglottis is closed, the air below the vocal folds has nowhere to go (it is a closed system). The air doesn't move, and therefore the vocal folds don't vibrate, and sound!

Perhaps what Stacey meant was the UVULA (aka soft palate or nasopharynx) rises to close off the NASAL cavity. This is exactly what I am describing in my reply earlier today...the uvula rises from the tongue moving posteriorly, creating hyponasality.

So, kudos to Stacey for being on the right track.

Meanwhile, Jonathan are you actually going to be singing in this voice? WTF dude?

Stacey says

Winegeek, the epiglottis was not lowered COMPLETELY as I said above, bad choice of words. It covered the larynx from view of the laryngoscope, but of course, it wasn't fully closed, or, as you said, no air could get out.

As a singer I know the soft palate, and what I saw in the laryngoscopy was DEFINITELY the epiglottis. You can make the "Glomer" noise with the soft palate raised OR lowered, but you can't do it without the epiglottis partially covering the larynx.

Stacey says

Winegeek: Reading your comment again, I think we're essentially saying the same thing, because pulling the tongue back is part of the swallowing action which lowers the epiglottis. If you don't do the swallow action all the way, the tongue goes back, the epiglottis goes down but doesn't close all the way, and you can phonate through that space.

So you're describing the conscious action you perform to make the sound (pull your tongue back) and I'm describing the physical effect which makes the sound (your epiglottis goes down).

Stacey says

One more. You can see the tonge and epiglottis go back here in the way I'm describing, starting at 0:29 and especially at 0:39 and 1:07.

JoCo says

That's what I'm TALKING about. You had me at epiglottis. That seems to describe how it feels, i'd say it's right. Though it does seem like there's no official name for it, which is surprising given how awesome a voice it is. And don't worry everyone, I only ask out of curiosity, not because I'm planning on singing in this voice on the new record - that would be terrible.

Ben Ostrowsky says

I dunno, JoCo, a cover of First of May in an epiglottal voice would be memorable...

Kat Kelley says

Ben Ostrowsky: Yes! Even better version to drive around town, blasting out of the speakers.....ah, to live in a southern, Christian town..

Mouselord says

My wife, reading over my shoulder is getting quite angry and informs me that you "cannot phonate with the epiglottis" and that the "uvula is not the soft palate" (which she was also annoyed you spelled with two Ts in your original post). She believes that this voice is produced with the velum and tongue retracted, forcing air through velopharyngal port to the nasal cavity creating a hyper nasal tonal quality.

Now, since I find words like velopharyngal to be very sexy, I am going to end here.

Jerry Beck says

Frank Wlker was the voice of Glomer on the PUNKY BREWSTER cartoon.

Jerry Beck says

Frank Welker (not Frank Wlker). Sorry for the typo.

ZSandmann says

Ok I am pretty goodat this unnamed technique so I will add a few more of these characters.

In addition to a mean Gizmo "Ramboooooo"

Marvin Martian

Meatwad - Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Mail says

Well, I'm not actually sure...Hmm..I'd like to think that it would be called something like 'Squishyoil Plus'. Something that is completely nonsensical like that.

herb says

Word on the street is that John Flansburgh (1/2 of TMBG) is going to produce JoCo's new album! Awesome!

Kyle says

look on

Tulleuchen says

What an wikipedia worthy topic! Anyone up to writing one? So next time I think of this I can just go there?

Talisker says

As mentioned above, if anyone is going to know the answer to this question, it'd be the linguists at the Language Log blog:

I'd try asking one of 'em (say, Mark Liberman).

MeeMeesiko says

Welcome to the internet, where people will discuss anything.

Absolutely. Anything.

David Hill says

Reminds me of George Carlin's classic comedy set about the bilabial fricative, used in the Spike Jones song 'Cocktails for Two'.

Lambikins says

I've nothing technical to add, but I can tell you what I call the sound you are describing: PAIN MAKE IT STOP!

Seriously: Bibble?! You are breaking my heart.

Criswell says

I think you are looking for this ... Alveolar Trill ? It's not high pitched, but it's the name for the rolling r sound.

Csadi says

The people here could probably best answer your question...

Exactly how the shape of the filter is changing to produce this voice, I don't know... listening to Glomer I think I hear some nasality, so, a lowered soft palate may be happening... but that would just be one piece and not the whole sound...

It would be interesting to see these cartoon voices in a spectrogram, not that it would tell me more about their production... but still fun.

Annette says

What you SHOULD be doing:

Touring with these guys:

AnnetteAgain says

Seriously, they do gypsy jazz covers of eighties songs, as well as some traditional gypsy jazz numbers and are absolutely outstanding. Check them out on YouTube:

You know you want more....

Ram says

Hi Jonathan,

There are in fact names for some famous sound effects created with voice in films.
The most famous one is the 'Wilhelm Scream'. This scream has been used in at least 37 huge productions, for example Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Kill Bill'. More info on this 'scream' at
As for the voice over's in cartoons Jim Cummings is a voice artist with one of the mot impressive voiceographies, it's really, really impressive, in how many productions this man has done voice overs, singing, and other sound effects. Check it out here People with this job are called voice actors, and the closest thing to naming what they do is 'talking funny for money'. Which brings me to answering your question. I think there is no name for what you specify, because what you are wondering about is just a random interest out of a huge spectrum of what voice actors do, and are capable of. On the other hand, because these actors generally sing for productions as well, they will probably use a lot of musical lingo to communicate to each other or from director to actor what a voice must sound like. My suggestion; Ask Jim Cummings.
And if you ever plan to use your own 'Coulton sound' in a song, I offer a free music video in the format of my online music research project called 'True Underground Project'. Cheers.

Linus says

I can totally do voices like this, I can sound almost exactly like Stich, yoda or golum from Lord of the rings. I can't really say exactly how I do this, It's really hard explaining but simply put, I pull my tounge back and at the same time as I speak, I make a somewhat growling noise.

Penguin says

"You had me at epiglottis" - cue cheesy biology love song. :p

Yeah, to do that voice I just push down the back of my tongue [epiglottis] into my throat, and close off my nose from the inside somewhat. It's a common sound in Middle Eastern languages, Arabic has a whole letter based around it. It's a brilliant letter, I can say it and none of my friends can C:<

Ryan Hirst says

I suggest the following:

Make up a name.

I've been substantially engaged in the surviving audio drama community for the last three years. Okay, just kidding. Wait, no... I think I'm serious. But what's the difference? Everyone is dead. Except the ones who can't remember anything.

Now, if you were faced with any other febrile, forgetful ADD animal you'd know just what to do. Laugh. Make up a good story. Get a lame pony within 50 miles of DeKalb and, well... they have to make money somehow in DeKalb.

And that's hilarious.

So, as a representative of the community of audio dramatists (.... anything? nah, she's asleep), I urge you, henceforth, to invent all answers wholesale and assert them as fact. For example, what if I told you that I'm holding the late Ray Erlenborn's copy of Robert Mott's _Sound Effects: Radio, TV, and Film_ (this is true except I have to type), and there is a whole chapter on interacting with voice actors (also true). And that there's a whole dedication from Ray in the beginning of the book (true) that just happens to confirm whatever absurd word you make up, as well as the complicated and vaguely dirty back story (oops, that's a lie)?

Wouldn't that be rad?

And then you could act like everyone's already supposed to know that's the word, and get visibly flustered when you have to explain. And then of course you HAVE to explain, and it just gets longer every time because you're making it up anyway. And when they don't believe you, you can argue and insist even though you made it up, which is just what everyone else does anyway. And that would also be rad.

And since you made it up, the names would be rad. And the whole world would be rad like dik-diks (which is an antelope you can put in your hand and happen to be called dik dik which you can say over and over because what pervert is hearing anything but "antelope"), and narcolepsy (which makes most people giggle. oh wait is that when you have sex with... no... oh it's that dumb sleepy thing. o wait it's not dumb i am a bad person).

Please, Mr. Coulton. I beseech you. Don't investigate the corpse of audio drama. Make it up instead. Make it funny. We will all love you for it. (we= me and anyone who likes zombies and nerdy songs which is everyone who matters).

Dominic says

I used to sing to my younger brother in that voice...he thought it was I mostly use it for a good Andy Serkis style Smeagol impression...just have to rasp it up a wee bit and your golden!

Jacob says

Gollum uses a seriously gravely version of this technique too. Oddly enough.

Kassidy says

I recorded a terrible parody of Bohemian Rhapsody called Middle Earth Rhapsody, sung in the voice of Smeagol primarily. Wrote it on the train into London one day. I'm honestly not sure it's worthy to be shared on here though.

Chris says

We should make our own name for it. Lets call it Tinho. I don't know why. Its what popped in first.

Damon says's because the Barbie Fairytopia movies are terribly made and generally crap. D:<

Ryan J. says

Doing the voice isn't hard its tighten up your vocal chords and using your tongue as little as possible for pronunciations! I can do a perfect Stich impersonation as well