Language in the News, Language on TV

Like, you know, whatever! (Thursday Thoughts, March 1st, 2012)

A New York Times article this week discussed how young women are linguistic trendsetters. In the article, several linguists comment on language trends, from “like” used as a discourse marker (similar to using a phrase such as “you know”) to “vocal fry,” and how young women (the 18-25 bracket) seem to be leading the charge when it comes to widespread usage.

The linguists mentioned  offer several theories as to what the young female speakers are attempting to do with “vocal fry,” but what I want to mention/reinforce here is the following:

  1. These trends reinforce the idea that language is always changing.
  2. There are often negative connotations associated with a few of these trends (such as “uptalk,” where every sentence ends with rising intonation. So, every sentence sounds like a question? Instead of a declarative statement? You get the idea). However, automatically assigning a negative attribute is to not take into account what the speakers are really attempting to do, which is build rapport.

Repetition in conversation can do a lot of work, including showing someone that you’re involved in what they’re saying. And repeating the prosody (aka, the tones of the words and phrases) can reinforce this.

In the world of young women, where friendships are a vital part of daily life, the idea that someone somewhere made a prosodic choice (like “vocal fry”) that was noticed and repeated by her peers on several occasions seems pretty plausible, and a trend was born.

And bonus points to anyone who recognized the title of today’s post as a line spoken by Lisa Simpson in the episode “Summer of 4 ft. 2” where Lisa practices that phrase in order to fit in with a new group of friends!

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