Gabriel Arana has an excellent short piece at The Atlantic on the cranky reaction of “stodgy old white dudes” like NPR’s Bob Garfield to linguistic innovations like “vocal fry,” or “creaky voice” (see the link for a description and video clip):
Women have long tended to be the linguistic innovators. The standard practice for linguists conducting research on a new language is to find a “NORM”—a non-mobile, older, rural male. NORMs are the most conservative linguistically, and typically serve as a model for where the language has been. If you want to see where the language is going, on the other hand, you find a young, urban woman. We have women to thank for “up-talk”—the rising intonation at the end of a sentence that has spread into mainstream speech—the discourse marker “like,” and now, vocal fry. It is not entirely understood why women tend to be ahead of the curve; it may be because they are less constrained by the limitations of “polite” speech, or because they form more of the social bonds that allow a linguistic trait to spread. Some have also suggested that because women tend to be the primary caretakers during infancy, they pass along linguistic traits to their children during the language-acquisition phase.
Whatever the reason, female linguistic innovation triggers a strange but reliable reaction. At the very hint of linguistic unorthodoxy, NORMs like Garfield go into an existential panic. Feeling the social hierarchy rumble beneath them, they express genteel disapproval, which quickly gives way to forceful denunciations—”vulgar,” “annoying,” “repulsive”—cries about the end of Western civilization, and finally, what’s-the-world-come-to resignation. As with my students, if you press them on what exactly sounds “wrong,” they come up with different ways of saying the same thing. Finally, they concede: “It just sounds wrong.” [….] All this is to say that normative judgments about linguistic prestige are relative, and merely reflect social attitudes.
So raise a glass to teenage girls for their linguistic innovation. It expands our expressive vocabulary, giving us new words and modes of expression. Speakers may nostalgically look to a previous golden era of English, but the truth is that Shakespeare’s English is an abomination of Chaucer’s English, which is an abomination of Beow[u]lf’s. Language is inherently unstable. It’s in a constant state of flux, made and remade—stretched, altered, broken down and rearranged—by its speakers every day. Rather than a sign of corruption and disorder, this is language in its full vitality—a living, evolving organism. NORMs may want to extract the mutation, preserve the mammoth in a block of ice. But they’re doomed. When it comes to language, the rules of natural selection apply: Evolve or perish.
Hear, hear! (Thanks for the link, Paul.)