Teenage girls are totally the harbingers of new linguistic trends, you know? As Jezebel puts it, everyone is totes talking like them.
Which is pretty cool. While teenage girls are often ridiculed for their speech patterns, those vocal tics and new slang seep out into the culture until we’re all dropping extra question marks and extraneous “likes” into our speech like it’s going out of style.
Which it is. Teen girls have moved on to something new, a trailing-off growly sound called the “vocal fry”. Think K$sha.
The New York times reports on a study of emerging vocal trends among teenage girls. They point out that the linguistic trends set by teenagers are often disparaged, but eventually find their way even into the mouths of presidents. George W. Bush was occasionally known to use the same verbal tics Valley Girls made famous.
Why are teenagers on the bleeding edge of linguistic trends? Well, young people set trends all over the place. Why shouldn’t they also influence how we talk? As the New York Times puts it:
The idea that young women serve as incubators of vocal trends for the culture at large has longstanding roots in linguistics. As Paris is to fashion, the thinking goes, so are young women to linguistic innovation.
“It’s generally pretty well known that if you identify a sound change in progress, then young people will be leading old people,” said Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, “and women tend to be maybe half a generation ahead of males on average.”
All the researchers the NYT talked to were clear that girls do these things as a way of building power in relationships. It’s not a sign of insecurity or weakness. Quite the opposite. It’s a form of play that gives you power. As Jezebel puts it:
Nothing is cooler to teenagers than to be totally over everything. In other cases, women use it so they sound more authoritative. Like Batman.
Makes teen girls sound like they really know what they’re talking about.
This whole article makes me feel pretty officially old. My personal slang stopped evolving around the time Buffy went off the air, and while I’ve been known to engage in a little clipping now and again, I don’t think I could make a “vocal fry” if all my cultural cred depended on it. Whatevs. I’m happy with the slang I’ve got, and have moved on to other, less colorful ways of establish power and intimacy in relationships.
I’ll think twice before correcting my daughter on this stuff, though. She may sound annoying, but she’s doing important work: inventing the next generation of language.