YOUNG WOMEN VS. NORMS.

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.)

Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    I’ve been watching snooker matches via YouTube and there’s a lovely diversity of British Isles speech, including a Welsh commentator who up-talks in almost every sentence.

  2. “Women have long tended to be the linguistic innovators…If you want to see where the language is going, on the other hand, you find a young, urban woman”
    Glad we got that sorted out. After all these hundreds of years, and it’s a gaggle of giddy schoolgirls responsible for the transformation of Chaucerian English to Shakespearian English. Like, duh!

  3. David Marjanović says:

    NORMs have also always been sought after in dialectology, on the reasoning that their speech is least likely to be “contaminated” by loaned words or features. As a result, the present situation of the dialects in question is often unknown.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    What also comes to mind is Guy Deutscher’s scenario of how sound shifts happen…

  5. Is up-talk really a linguistic innovation, and has it really spread into mainstream speech? My impression is that it isn’t, and that it hasn’t; I don’t hear anyone using it but teenage girls and (somewhat less) boys, and it strikes me as a sign of insecurity that fades with age. Not that it isn’t silly to wring your hands about it, although I can’t say I like it myself, and not that I don’t agree with the quote in general (or I’d have used quotation, of course) — I just found that example curious.
    Unrelated etymological question: is it true that sciential was the original adjective for science, both words borrowed from Old French, and that scientific was borrowed later from Latin during the Renaissance? Anne Curzan, an English Professor at the University of Michigan in the linguistics department, seems to make that claim in her new Teaching Company course — seems to, because she says it quickly as a side note and I might have misinterpreted. The OED has this note on scientific.

    The ultimate source of the word is to be sought in Aristotelian expressions like that in Post. Anal. i. ii. (71 b), where it is said that unless certain essential conditions are fulfilled, a syllogism will not be demonstrative, ‘for it will not produce knowledge’ (ού γὰρ ποιήσει ἐπιοτήμην, rendered in the translation attributed to Boethius ‘non enim faciet scientiam’). In pursuance of the suggestion of this phrase, the translator in the same chapter renders συλλογισμὸν ἐπιστημονικόν by ‘syllogismum epistemonicon, id est facientem scire’, and in 1. vi. uses ‘scientificæ demonstrationes’ for αἱ ἐπιστημονικαὶ ἀποδείξεις. In this application the word survived in Latin text-books of logic down to Aldrich, though some of them have instead scientiam pariens or faciens scire.
    From having been thus employed as a contextual interpretation of ἐπιστημονικός (pertaining to science or knowledge; = medieval Latin scientialis), the Latin scientificus was afterwards used inappropriately (instead of scientialis) in the 13th cent. translation of Aristotle’s Ethics ( vi. i. §6) to render this Greek word where it designates the theoretic as opposed to the deliberative faculty of the soul. This use was followed by Aquinas; it is in this application that the Italian scientifico is used by Dante, and the French scientifique by Oresme (14th cent.). Hence the prevailing sense of the adj. in subsequent Latin, in the Romance languages, and in English, has been ‘pertaining to science’; it is merely by a contextual accident that in phrases like ‘scientific investigation’ the word admits of being interpreted in its etymological meaning. Aquinas also uses scientificus for ‘expert in science, learned’, a sense which still survived in 16th cent. Latin. The lateness of the first appearance of the word in English is remarkable.

  6. I don’t hear anyone using it but teenage girls and (somewhat less) boys
    You’re not listening to the radio enough. I hear it a lot.
    Can’t help you with sciental, I’m afraid, but I’ll bet John Cowan can.

  7. So raise a glass to teenage girls for their linguistic innovation. It expands our expressive vocabulary, giving us new words and modes of expression.
    I agree with Jamessal. Regardless of his conclusions Gabriel Arana’s reasoning is pretty hopeless. On uptalk? The rising intonation thing? Teenage girls didn’t invent using a rising intonation to ask a question; they merely invented using it everywhere, thereby making all statements sound like questions. I don’t find that expressive – quite the opposite.
    “stodgy old white dudes”
    Gabriel Arana says the creaky or vocal-fry voice is used by “young, upwardly mobile women” of “college age” (how tendentious, it’s got nothing to do with a college education, “aged 18-25″ would be more honest). My 18-year-old daughter is not a stodgy old man, though she is white and a total dude. Nevertheless she despises the creaky voice, and so do some of her (admittedly Norwegian) schoolfriends, both male & female, who see it on tv. The creaky voice may be everywhere, but not everyone wants to sound like a Big Mac eating valley girl. I doubt that it’s going anywhere in the long term.

  8. Aren’t I right that our current usage of the word ‘science’ is only from the 18C – early 19C? I get a bit mixed up with science, Wissenschaft, realfag etc.

  9. Strangely enough, I was always under the impression that women were more linguistically conservative (i.e., more likely to be influenced by prestige factors and use ‘correct’ grammar and pronunciation), whereas men were afflicted with a ‘reverse prestige’ complex, trying to sound like one of the boys, bucking social norms in a ‘manly’ sort of way, etc.

  10. rootlesscosmo says:

    The Welsh snooker commentator–definitely not a teenage girl–uses uptalk in declarative sentences. I’ll supply YouTube URLs if anyone’s curious to hear this.

  11. Yes, rootless! I’m curious!

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: Strangely enough, I was always under the impression that women were more linguistically conservative (i.e., more likely to be influenced by prestige factors and use ‘correct’ grammar and pronunciation), whereas men were afflicted with a ‘reverse prestige’ complex, trying to sound like one of the boys, bucking social norms in a ‘manly’ sort of way, etc.
    There are several components to language, so a person can be linguistically conservative in terms of grammar and also linguistically innovative in terms of intonation (eg the ‘uptalk’) and non-distinctive features of pronunciation (eg lengthening or otherwise exaggerating vowels for effect). See for instance Wiki’s description of “valley girl” talk: Qualifiers such as “like”, “whatever”, “way”, “as if!”, “totally”, and “duh” were interjected in the middle of phrases and sentences as emphasizers. Narrative sentences were often spoken as if questions using a high rising terminal. Heavily accented words were spoken with high variation in pitch combined with very open or nasal vowel sounds. None of these features affected morphology or syntax.
    In a recent discussion where the role of young women was mentioned, Etienne replied that this theory was not valid in many parts of the world (where presumably women are more likely to be in an inferior social position or at least where men’s and women’s social and economic roles are quite different, with young boys joining the men at an early age). I think that the role of young women in language change has been shown to be important in the US, especially among those women aspiring to upward social mobility. But the “valley girl” kind of talk seemed to be more typical of girls born in educated and affluent families but not particularly interested in intellectual pursuits themselves. Instead, they were advertising their high social status and keeping themselves obviously distinct from lower status girls both visually by their expensive fashions and audibly by their linguistic peculiarities.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Aquinas also uses scientificus for ‘expert in science, learned’, a sense which still survived in 16th cent. Latin.

    Or modern French, where scientifique means “scientist” whenever used as a noun.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Snowy the dog
    Snowy is the name given by the British translator(s) to the companion of Tintin in the Belgian series. His original French name is Milou, the diminutive of Emile, while Tintin is probably the diminutive of Augustin (reduplication is frequent in French diminutives). At the beginning of the series, Tintin and Milou were more a pair of buddies than a human and his dog: Milou understood everything Tintin said, and mutely added his own comments. A name like Tintin, especially in the English pronunciation, does not have any resonance for the English-only reader (a name like “Sonny” or “Buddy” would be closer to the impact of the French name) and the descriptive Snowy is obviously an animal’s name, unlike Milou.

  15. The names are not as good in English, you’re right, but after a while you get used to them. I wouldn’t want to change them.
    the “valley girl” kind of talk seemed to be more typical of girls born in educated and affluent families
    Are you sure about this, m-l? I thought that in LA the valley was considered to be socially inferior to Beverley Hills and coastal areas.

  16. You’re not listening to the radio enough. I hear it a lot.
    Huh. I’d never really thought about how few people you might hear speaking naturally if you don’t listen to the radio. And you’re right, I haven’t been listening enough.

  17. rootlesscosmo says:

    @ajp: the first voice on this
    http://youtu.be/KL0aGvdaKa4
    is the one I had in mind. The match is the 2004 Welsh Open; I haven’t heard this commentator on matches held in England or Northern Ireland.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    DM: modern French, where scientifique means “scientist” whenever used as a noun.
    This is a relatively recent use, probably in order to translate English “scientist”. When I was a student (and in earlier times), both scientists and scholars were called savants, literally “learneds”, although un scientifique was also used for a scientist.
    Savant is both a noun and an adjective, hence the phrase (un) idiot savant, lit. “(a) learned idiot” for the type of mentally unusual person who is well below average with respect to the ordinary abilities used in daily life but considerably above average in specific but odd abilities such as calculating at lightning speed on what day of the week Christmas will fall 276 years from now.

  19. Teenage girls didn’t invent using a rising intonation to ask a question; they merely invented using it everywhere, thereby making all statements sound like questions. I don’t find that expressive – quite the opposite.
    Me, too. Does anyone here think it is expressive, or even just like it? (I hope it goes without saying that even though I don’t like up-talk, and even agree with AJP’s argument against it, I also know full well that it’s not an epidemic; just because we know our voices will be drowned out by the ocean doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy using them.)

  20. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: I thought that in LA the valley was considered to be socially inferior to Beverley Hills and coastal areas.
    Well, perhaps the valley is not as star-studded as those other places but my impression (bolstered by consulting Wiki) is that it is close to the upper end of the social scale. If so, then the desire for more upward mobility, as well as current status display, could be a factor.

  21. The only use of sciental that a quick google turned up was an appearance of it in Ben Jonson’s Masque of Blackness (1605): “His [sc. the King's] eye sciental is.” This seems to mean that his gaze is penetrating, that it knows things.
    There are a couple of outliers for scientific in the modern sense: in 1589 we hear of scientifick artificers, and in 1722 of the scientific studies, but both of these probably refer to the liberal as opposed to the mechanical arts. But scientific world, treatise, man, periodical, truth, language, temperament, spirit are all 19th-century inventions. (There is an earlier use of scientific in the sense of ‘demonstrable’ that is 17th-century.)
    Scientist was a conscious creation of William Whewell in the late 1830s, by analogy with artist. At first it was rejected by the scientific community, but by the 1850s it was common currency.

  22. “It’s all about bottle.” Rootless, I very much enjoyed the snooker. i haven’t watched it for years. To me the Welshman’s uptalking sentence ends didn’t sound interrogative so I probably wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out. But it was worth watching for the match, so thanks.
    m-l I’m sure that’s right. Sorry for questioning it. Frank Zappa’s house was I think in Pasadena, which is in the San Fernando valley, isn’t it? And Moon Zappa spoke the Valley Girls’ parts in the song, which was the first most of us (i.e. me) had heard of the expression.
    Jamessal, I see two points here; one is the uptalk and vocal fry, which no one except the speakers seems to like much now but I feel confident we’ll remember with warm nostalgia once they’ve ceased to seem slightly threatening to Western civilisation; the other is Gabriel Arana’s halfassed arguments which make his worthy prescriptivist case so badly.

  23. I know a full professor at Harvard who speaks with uptalk; here’s an example of him giving a scientific talk:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3anjSAnKBo
    I believe he’s originally from San Diego.

  24. There was resistance to the word “scientist” late into the 19th century. In their correspondence, physicists such as Maxwell, Kelvin and Stokes consistently referred to their professional brethren as “men of science,” and even as late as 1897, when the British Association held its annual meeting in Toronto, the Globe had headlines “The Men of Science Arriving” and “Ready for the Men of Science.”
    Kelvin (1824-1907) didn’t care for the word ‘science’ either, and spoke instead of ‘natural philosophy.’

  25. “Big Mac eating valley girl”: I long to see that as a caption on a photo.

  26. mollymooly says:

    In the youtube snooker clip the commentator with the strongly Welsh accent is former top player Terry Griffiths; the other is longtime BBC presenter Clive Everton, who Wikipedia says is also Welsh.

  27. Thank you, David L. I’d forgotten ‘natural philosophy’.
    Sorry, dearie. I couldn’t decide how many hyphens so I left them all out. I think it would make a nice drawing.

  28. m-l: Nowadays, the term idiot savant has been replaced by simply savant in English. It has also become disconnected from any claim about general intelligence. Thus, Wikipedia claims that the sociologist Jason Hughes is a savant, though it doesn’t say what his savant talent might be. But his general article says he is a senior lecturer in sociology at Brunel University in London, which means he must be of at least normal general intelligence. If the claim is true, then, he is a savant in both English and French senses!

  29. rootlesscosmo says:

    Thanks, mollymooly. I’ve come to recognize Denis Taylor, John Virgo, and Ken Doherty (“the darling of Dublin”) but not these two as yet. ajp: have a look at the astonishing Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_0SYAvmlVU&feature=share&list=FLZfXNyEgQ_D4ZcTLMAD8e6g

  30. Knowing what day of the week a particular date falls on is more of a trick than an unusual mental ability. Anyone can learn to do it if they want to devote some time to it.
    Calculating prodigiously large numbers in your head is a different matter, although I read an article that claimed it could be taught (in American Scientist a few years ago, I think).

  31. Jonathan D says:

    maidhc, even without having learnt the general trick, you can quickly tell that the day of the week for any date 276 years from now will be the same as it is this year. In the special case of Christmas, my meory of the last one lets me tell you it will be Wednesday.

  32. Like quite a few of the commentators of the original piece, I have to say that Zooey Deschanel sounds perfectly normal to me in that clip, I don’t hear any “vocal fry”. If anything, she sounds very much like her sister Emily, the lead actress in “Bones”. Also, Zooey is 33, so maybe a little old to be an example of what “teenage girls” do.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    JC, I know that some people use savant instead of idiot savant because they consider idiot too derogatory, but if savant is indeed used in English as in French (although rarely I would think), then there can be a problem in translation! Wiki says that “autistic savant” is now the preferred technical term.
    Calculating numbers, etc: I mentioned Christmas 276 years from now as a random example. The point of the idiot savants who can do (and enjoy doing) such calculations is that they have not been taught the “tricks”, and while they are below average in general mental ability.

  34. marie-lucie, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the French equivalent of valley-girl speech, the buh-buh-BAHM-puh intonation: “Ca m’e-NERV-uhhh!” “Mais c’est DING-uhhh!” and so on. It was striking in the late 80′s, and seemed peculiar to girls, whose class I was in no position to judge.

  35. Jamessal, I see two points here; one is the uptalk and vocal fry, which no one except the speakers seems to like much now but I feel confident we’ll remember with warm nostalgia once they’ve ceased to seem slightly threatening to Western civilisation; the other is Gabriel Arana’s halfassed arguments which make his worthy prescriptivist case so badly.
    Yeah, that sounds right (though I assume you mean descriptivist). I was just curious to see if anyone could, or wanted to, make the case for those changes (or at least up-talk) more persuasively. I enjoy a good descriptivist rant as much as the next guy, but there’s a difference between appreciating linguistics and throwing a party for each and every linguistic change. The latter is a prescriptivist straw man, I like to argue, though that will be harder if people start wasting good descriptivist rhetoric on specific changes they embrace without being able to articulate their value.
    John C: Thanks for the research on sciential and scientific.

  36. To put if differently, a “stodgy old white dude” decrying the fall of civilization outside a frat house is a clearly a more risible figure than anyone inside. The frat house is perfectly normal, is the point. Why “raise our glasses” to normality?

  37. Yes, sorry, I meant descriptivist. I was so busy correcting “prescriptionist” that I missed it. I shouldn’t type in the dark without glasses on.
    Why “raise our glasses” to normality?
    That’s the point he ought to have made. Have you ever considered writing an article like this? You could probably do it better than anyone (and autobiographically).

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Adelfons: the French equivalent of valley-girl speech, the buh-buh-BAHM-puh intonation: “Ca m’e-NERV-uhhh!” “Mais c’est DING-uhhh!” and so on.
    I am not sure if this would be considered the equivalent of valley girl speech. In any case, the point is not the overall intonation, but the addition of “uhhh” at the end, where the final [∂] is not normally pronounced (and even where there is normally no possibility of an [∂], as in Bon-JOUR-uhhhh for Bon-JOUR). I don’t spend much time in France, but a few years ago I heard that a lot from young saleswomen and cashiers in ordinary stores (I don’t know if it would have applied to high class ones). But I don’t remember my nieces using it, even though they would have been in the same age group.
    I interpreted this as a reaction against the usual casual pronunciation which tends to weaken final consonants (as spoken, not written). Final /r/ (a uvular) especially tends to be so weakly articulated as to be inaudible. Emphasizing the consonant means releasing it audibly, sometimes creating a [∂] whether it exists potentially in the word or not. The pronunciation in question was an exaggeration of the emphatic release, with an unstressed but distinctly audible, full-length vowel.

  39. “Is up-talk really a linguistic innovation, and has it really spread into mainstream speech? My impression is that it isn’t, and that it hasn’t; I don’t hear anyone using it but teenage girls and (somewhat less) boys, and it strikes me as a sign of insecurity that fades with age.”
    Here in western Washington that style of speech is called “Greenspeak” after the Evergreen State College, a very alternative institution. The idea is that the upward intonation saves you form sounding too assertive or “hegemonic’ or whatever. It is rather stigmatized, just for the reason you give.
    “AJP: I thought that in LA the valley was considered to be socially inferior to Beverley Hills and coastal areas.”
    But socially superior to Compton and Riverside and East LA. That’s the crucial distinction that that mannerism is supposed to highlight.

  40. Thanks, Jim. It’s starting to make geographic sense to me.

  41. As a 26-year-old female from the Baltimore-Washington suburbs, I’m pretty solidly in the “vocal-fry” demographic. I can say with certainty that I don’t aspire to “sound like a Big Mac eating valley girl”, but I use creaky voice pretty frequently.
    I think a point people are missing is that up-talk and creaky voice are, by and large, not consciously adopted mannerisms. Your friends rub off on you, you hear it from people in the media, from classmates, wherever. You adopt it because it’s a feature of your in-group, and you probably adopt it without even noticing. It didn’t occur to me that I used creaky voice (much less that I needed to be self-conscious about it!) until I first caught wind of this whole fuss a year or so ago and started noticing creaky voice in my speech.
    This means that I can’t justify why I do it, and I can’t give you an argument for how it makes my speech more expressive, or how it makes me sound more confident or less confident… or even whether it does any of those things!
    It’s not that speakers necessarily like creaky voice and it’s not that creaky voice is adopted for specific, conscious reasons. It’s just language change (or a language fad) moving along like it always does. No need to despair for the country’s future or to celebrate some amazing linguistic innovation. It’s normal, it might stick around and lose its stigma, or it might fade over time.

  42. @CL: What a sensible comment! I raise my glass to you.

  43. Your friends rub off on you, you hear it from people in the media, from classmates, wherever. You adopt it because it’s a feature of your in-group, and you probably adopt it without even noticing.
    But when, where, and how did it start? Someone (a trendsetter, not a follower) must have thought it was cool enough to use or imitate.

  44. Good points, CL. I’m a 59-year-old white male, so pretty solidly in the stodgy old white dude demographic though I don’t aspire to it either. By “Big-Mac-eating valley girl” I meant that I thought it was low-prestige and therefore wouldn’t flourish (sort of like “aksed” for asked, a few years ago), but was I right about that? Maybe it’s got more prestige than I knew (I don’t live in the US).

  45. @Crown: Did “aksed” become trendy a few years ago? I may have missed that, as I miss so many trends. I thought it was just a (low-prestige) dialect thing, here to stay and sometimes subject to ridicule.

  46. @CL: What a sensible comment! I raise my glass to you.
    Me, too.
    Did “aksed” become trendy a few years ago? I may have missed that, as I miss so many trends. I thought it was just a (low-prestige) dialect thing, here to stay and sometimes subject to ridicule.
    I don’t know if it ever became trendy; I do know that it’s a part of AAVE, sometimes fatuously ridiculed by people who know nothing about language, at best, and racists, at worst. “Aksed” is also the old standard pronunciation, changed via metathesis.

  47. This means that I can’t justify why I do it, and I can’t give you an argument for how it makes my speech more expressive
    I hope it didn’t sound as though I think people who use up-talk or vocal fry need to justify themselves, because I don’t.

  48. up-talk and creaky voice are, by and large, not consciously adopted mannerisms . . . This means that I can’t justify why I do it, and I can’t give you an argument for how it makes my speech more expressive, or how it makes me sound more confident or less confident… or even whether it does any of those things!
    Well, that doesn’t necessarily follow. That you didn’t adopt these mannerisms consciously, and that there are several plausible causes, means only those things — not that you couldn’t, if you wished, reflect on your speech to offer some insight about the subject at hand. Again, you’re obviously not obligated, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

  49. Ø,
    No, see, I’m just totally out of it. I read somewhere that nobody (of the people who used it, African- and Latin-Americans) says aksed any more. Whereas they apparently do.
    Although it’s clearly racist to object to aksed when it’s AAVE, I think the worry – that civilisation might disintegrate because people are messing with the structure, instead of thinking that civilisation is enriched by variety – is the same as with vocal-fry. The anxiety isn’t initially motivated by racial prejudice or fear of the younger generation; it comes from somewhere else, and I’d be interested to know if it’s something that’s been bred-in to everyone or if it’s just learned, Western behaviour.

  50. @AJP Crown: If you mean anxiety about linguistic change in general, I think it’s just that people talking differently than we were taught is one more sign that time moves on, and WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! AAAAGHHHHH!!!!!

  51. I think Rodger C’s got it.

  52. So do people in other cultures complain about it too?

  53. @AJP Crown:
    By “Big-Mac-eating valley girl” I meant that I thought it was low-prestige and therefore wouldn’t flourish (sort of like “aksed” for asked, a few years ago), but was I right about that? Maybe it’s got more prestige than I knew (I don’t live in the US).
    In my experience creaky-voice is not a low-prestige marker. I’ve been a PhD student in the midwest for the past 5 years, and the people I hear it from most are fellow female graduate students and female undergraduates (though some of the guys do it too). Some of the other graduate students actually complain about how prevalent it is in the undergraduate population because of how hard it makes measuring pitch contours in the speech they record during their experiments. (I know a bunch of people who study prosody.) Unlike up-talk, the people who use creaky-voice tend to cultivate a more educated, professional image. I imagine, though I don’t interact with enough of them to know, that it would also be pretty prevalent among young female professionals.

  54. @jamessal
    I hope it didn’t sound as though I think people who use up-talk or vocal fry need to justify themselves, because I don’t.
    No, I didn’t think you meant people needed to justify the way they talk. It was more that it sounded like you assumed they could, if asked. I didn’t even notice using creaky voice until after I found out some people didn’t like it. Before that I don’t think I would have had any idea what to say to someone who pointed it out and asked why I did it.
    …not that you couldn’t, if you wished, reflect on your speech to offer some insight about the subject at hand.
    Of course. I think the main reasons I use creaky voice is that I hear peers I look up to use it. One of the more stylish, extremely smart graduate students in my year uses it a lot, as do a number of the female students who were a few years ahead of me. I haven’t paid much attention to this in particular, but I assume that I’ve been hearing it in the TV shows I watch as well: I bet Angela in the aforementioned Bones uses creaky voice, for instance. I’ll keep an ear out.
    One of the funny things about creaky voice (and probably up-talk, too), especially given all the fuss, is that a lot of people seem to use it a little (it tends to show up at the ends of utterances), and a few people use it a lot. I’ve heard some people use enough creaky voice that it got on my nerves. On the other hand, when people use it frequently in the same contexts where I would use it, I have to pay specific attention to notice it at all.

  55. @Bathrobe
    But when, where, and how did it start? Someone (a trendsetter, not a follower) must have thought it was cool enough to use or imitate.
    I’d love to know. My best guess is something like the following, but it’s pure speculation, of course. Creaky-voice often occurs naturally at the end of utterances, so the trend as a whole is mostly an exaggeration of this typical pattern. It may be that there wasn’t someone who consciously decided it sounded cool enough to use. It may just be that her role model had an idiosyncratic tendency to use more creaky voice than average, she started to unconsciously imitate this, and then it spread through her group of friends.
    There’s a whole literature on accent/dialect accommodation – when people who have slightly different accents talk to each other, over the course of a conversation their speech patterns (at a phonological level, anyway) tend to become more similar. If I’m remembering right, the way this happens (who adjusts more, etc) is influenced by who has more prestige (among many other things). My semi-educated guess is that this kind of everyday adjustment could, over time, spawn language change/fads.

  56. “So do people in other cultures complain about it too?”
    No, they bitch and moan and howl and gnash their teeth. Google “Americanisms” and “creeping Americanisms” for a taste.

  57. As we’re still talking about “creaky voice”, could somebody please post a link where it’s quite obvious? Like I said before, I really didn’t hear it in the Zooey Deschanel clip (and I wasn’t the only one).

  58. this seems it, pretty funny
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsE5mysfZsY

  59. No, I didn’t think you meant people needed to justify the way they talk. It was more that it sounded like you assumed they could, if asked.
    I didn’t, and don’t — not any more than I assume that people can articulate, or even really know, their reasons for doing anything habitually, whether or not that behavior is justifiable. Now, I’m not exactly sure what I assume, or think, about any of that; I know we’re not Vulcans, or moles, but there’s a lot of unknown space in between. I just wanted to be clear that I don’t think people are especially conscientious about their speech, in case I wasn’t before.

  60. CL, thanks for the explanation of who uses the creaky voice and when. It reminds me now of the sharp intake of breath to signify “Yes” that’s used by women young & old in Germany & Scandinavia, and a little bit in Britain too. When I was a child my grandmother did it, so I know it’s been going for at least 50 years. And although it’s spread through different age groups and social classes and crosses language boundaries it’s never (as far as I know) used by men.

  61. Thank you, read.

  62. Completely off-topic, but just found that John Cowan (yes, this one) is on the editorial board of R7RS. What a fulfilling life he has.

  63. Yes, I don’t want to make him blush, but he’s quite amazing.

  64. not at all, bruessel

  65. I liked it too, read.

  66. It reminds me now of the sharp intake of breath to signify “Yes” … never (as far as I know) used by men.
    Do you mean just an intake of breath signifying “yes” or actually saying “yes” on an intake of breath? I used to hear the latter in Canada, and by men too (or predominantly?)

  67. good, i’m glad, AJPC, the girl is so funny to imitate the vocalism, why would so young women act something as if like world-weary, tired, know it all like, as she says “sophisticated”, maybe it’s again something like a defense mechanism, something like anyway everybody is as if like afraid to be or be perceived as sincere and just as one is and has to pretend to be someone else
    everything pretentious is pretentious, so it sounds funny, just be yourself, imo

  68. J.W. Brewer says:

    I don’t know Garfield’s bio, but I find it improbable that an NPR commentator represents the non-mobile and rural demographic. Personally having a stable/non-innovative idiolect is not the same thing as being prescriptivist/judgmental about other people’s idiolects. Celebrating change for its own sake is as silly and unscientific/undescriptivist as decrying it. Who is as prescriptivist as the teenager (or her adult emulators) who makes fun of people for using supposedly out-of-date turns of phrase?

  69. “However it’s not uncommon to be in a meeting with him when another participant recognizes him from functional programming, English philology, or some equally independent field. He’s incredibly productive and makes significant contributions in so many areas that folks think there must be three people named John Cowan, but it’s really just him.” —Elliotte Rusty Harold recommending me at LinkedIn.
    And if I were going to blush, it would have been at your LinkedIn encomium to me, Hat: “He cares intensely about an amazing variety of things, and if you give him something to look into, if the answer is humanly findable he will find it. As someone with a similar dedication to rooting out facts, I know how hard it is to amass them the way he does, and if I needed someone to do research for me he would be the first name on my list. Furthermore, he writes impeccably, a quality not easy to come by. I recommend him without reservation.”

  70. read, I liked the way she was so honest about her reactions. You must be around some of these young creaky women. Do you hear it and have they mentioned it?

  71. no, biomedical grad students seem not very pretentious people, all seem like behaving pretty naturally, at least in speech, and cz many foreign researchers work together, so all kinds if accents one can hear, the problem must be there is to not misunderstand each other, it’s like not much time for pretensions there i guess
    but i hear the vocalism sometimes on the NJT trains going to NYC, how it sounds young women talking mostly between themselves i guess, so it sounded familiar

  72. of

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Hurrah for John Cowan!

  74. Do you mean just an intake of breath signifying “yes” or actually saying “yes” on an intake of breath?
    The former.
    I think this has been discussed here before. I’ve heard it from Scandinavian women. At least, what I’ve heard is wordless and seems to indicate something like “yes” or “I hear you” or “go on”. It can take a little getting used to, because for the uninitiated it might sound like it means “I’m starting to speak now”, but it doesn’t.

  75. Sorry, Alan Shaw, I missed your question. I agree with what Ø said.

  76. des von bladet says:

    When it comes to language, the rules of natural selection apply: Evolve or perish.
    The author could profitably explain this to the crocodiles, and what (if anything) is left could explain the explanation to the sharks.
    Meanwhile, I would like it explained why we should admire the allegedly inevitable structural role of young urban wimmins and disdain the allegedly inevitable structural role of old rural men. Insofar as it can’t usefully be ascribed to agency – and it allegedly can’t – I don’t see that the individuals (individually or collectively) deserve much credit or blame.
    I don’t even see why I should be glad that our langwidge is quite different from Shakespeare’s, although I don’t see any particular reason to be sad either.
    I can – in a break from what might otherwise seem an overwhelming apathy – see a point to careful sociolinguistic research, though.

  77. Yeah.

  78. Crown, our camp is growing! I count Ø, J.W. Brewer, CL (I’m pretty sure), and now des von bladet — good company!

  79. David Marjanović says:

    This is a relatively recent use, probably in order to translate English “scientist”. When I was a student (and in earlier times), both scientists and scholars were called savants, literally “learneds”

    Not sure if it’s specifically the English that’s the model here. German Gelehrter “male scholar” (decidedly old-fashioned), Wissenschaftler (rarely Wissenschafter “male scientist”.

    Kelvin (1824-1907) didn’t care for the word ‘science’ either, and spoke instead of ‘natural philosophy.’

    Seems in character for him.

    the sharp intake of breath to signify “Yes” that’s used by women young & old in Germany & Scandinavia

    o_O Never heard of it before.

    The author could profitably explain this to the crocodiles, and what (if anything) is left could explain the explanation to the sharks.

    Stabilizing selection. =8-) Also, the crocodiles have had an amazing diversity (much like the coelacanths, only more so), and the sharks are quite diverse today.

    I don’t even see why I should be glad that our langwidge is quite different from Shakespeare’s

    [ɛsˌkʊ̝md̥nɪ̝ksˌb̥e̙sˑɐsˈnɒ̈ˑx]
    Austrian proverb, obligatory reaction to the end of any bad state of affairs: “nothing better ever follows”.

  80. Yeah.
    I especially liked the bit about the crocodiles and sharks.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t even see why I should be glad that our langwidge is quite different from Shakespeare’s
    “Because otherwise we couldn’t really understand it!”

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