How Young Women Are Changing The Way We Speak

As to celebrate International Women’s Day today, I thought it would be great to share an article which proves on how women are actually change agents – even the excessively girly ones :

Spoken language changes fast, but who are the agents driving such rapid change? Recent linguistic research is pointing to young women as being very influential in this process and grapples with the question: how do these vocal trends make their way into the mainstream? How do they cross the gender boundaries to the point where it is now men who are more likely to say the word ‘like’ than women?

Recent projects, spearheaded by Stanford linguistics professor Penny EckertMark Liberman at University of Pennsylvania, Long Island University speech scientist Nassima Abdelli-Beruh, and professor Carmen Fought at Pitzer College, are proving the point that there is something deeper here than the merely surface assumption that young women who use certain vocal trends are ‘immature’ or ‘airheads.’

Carmen Fought told the NY Times that:

If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid. The truth is this: young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.

Research in this area looks at vocal trends driven by young woman like uptalk (where we pronounce statements as if they were questions), new slang, vocal flying (that raspy, croaking intonation that usually comes in at the end of a sentence), and of course, the use of the word ‘like.’ Professor Eckert asserts that:

A lot of these really flamboyant things you hear are cute, and girls are supposed to be cute. But they’re not just using them because they’re girls. They’re using them to achieve some kind of interactional and stylistic end.

In discerning the cultural drivers, general conclusions revolve around the idea that vocal trends double as social cues and help women navigate through social interactions. Other theorists see it as an empowerment tool, while others want to say that young women simply want to get away with speaking flamboyantly because they can. It’s not easy to discern because lowering one’s voice in a ‘vocal fry’, for example, can help the speaker sound more authoritative, but it can also express indifference.

However, the ability of these speech quirks to linger and get picked up by other segments of the population aside from women, demonstrates some type of deep-rooted  linguistic influence by women.

via PSFK

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  1. #1 by Cory on March 8, 2012 - 10:56 am

    Very interestaaanng post! It has made me think of how much I say ‘like.’ I don’t do the ‘uptalk’, though, thank god.

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