It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“‘If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid,’ said Carmen Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. ‘The truth is this: Young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.’” (“They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistiv Currrrve” ; NYTimes.com 2/28/2012)
I’m fascinated by this article about how girls, teens and 20-somethings are largely responsible for starting language and vocal trends. We think of Valley Girl speak, or Mean Girls’ “That’s so fetch,” or Happy Endings‘ “Ah-mah-zing,” as silly and immature, but linguists are saying otherwise.
Says one professor to the Times: “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.”
The trends in question are “uptalk,” which is when people end a sentence as a question (“OMG, it is sooo cold out?”) and “vocal fry,” which this article explains as “a raspy or croaking sound injected (usually) at the end of a sentence.” (There’s an official example here, though Britney Spears, Ke$ha and Maya Rudolph as Maya Angelou are all said to be more recognizable examples.)
It’s interesting that the quote at the top of this article says that girls employ these vocal ticks as relationship building tools. I wish they’d expanded on that. I’m wondering if it works as another cue that one is “with it,” similar to fashion. We dress alike, we speak alike, therefore we should be friends? Or are these linguistic features actually used to attract others and denote power ?
It seems that researchers don’t quite know the “why” of it all just yet. According to the article, “some linguists suggest that women are more sensitive to social interactions and hence more likely to adopt subtle vocal cues. Others say women use language to assert their power in a culture that, at least in days gone by, asked them to be sedate and decorous. Another theory is that young women are simply given more leeway by society to speak flamboyantly.” And even these reasons speak more to why and how women start the fad, not how the fad is used to build relationships.
Still it’s worth paying attention to. As kids, you and your BFF might have had a secret language or a few inside joke words that only you could decipher. Perhaps these vocal features are the same. I’ve definitely had the experience of meeting two best friends separately, and their speech patterns being eerily similar.
Do you and your BFFs have the same vocal ticks?