I feel like girls and young women get a lot of criticism for the way we speak, that the manner of communication we employ makes us sound stupid, or that it’s simply not ‘correct’, and I have to roll my eyes Cher Horowitz style. It seems like the biggest ‘problems’ that we have are vocal fry (watch Lake Bell rant about it here, whilst unknowingly employing it throughout the whole interview), ‘uptalk’ and saying ‘like’ too often. These are all things that we associate with 80s Valley Girl speak and I assume a lot of people my age around the Anglosphere have adopted a lot of these habits is because of the popularity of American TV and film around the world.
And do you know what? There’s nothing wrong with the way we speak. Naomi Wolf complains that we shouldn’t be using these tics, but in her own article acknowledges that they serve a purpose and we know what we’re doing when we employ them.
Like, take ‘like’, for, like, example. Can you see what am I doing? I’m stalling. Much like you’ll hear a native French speaker say ‘euhh’ when they’re trying to gather their thoughts, I am using the word ‘like’ to keep my speech flowing as I figure out what I’m trying to say. I’ve actually found that when I make a conscious effort to not say ‘like’, I’ll get interrupted whenever I take a pause, or end up saying ‘sort of’ all the time instead. If we are to believe that women are far more often interrupted than men, it is a useful tool te get our voices heard.
Another reason we say ‘like’ all the time is because we literally mean ‘like’. As in, ‘…and I was like, then he was like…’ because I’m not relaying a conversation verbatim, I’m telling you WHAT IT WAS LIKE. Lord knows why people take such offence to this. Probably the same people who bitch about the changing use of the word ‘literally’. You know who you are.
So, uptalk? This is where we like, have a rising intonation at the end of our sentence so it sounds like a question? Guess what? That’s the effing point. By using uptalk I’m inviting engagement with the person I’m speaking to. It helps me make sure they’re paying attention and understanding. I understand how that might come across as self-doubt, but it’s annoying as shit when you’re talking to someone who clearly isn’t following what you’re saying. May aswell keep them in check.
Finally, vocal fryyyyy-y-y-y-y. That crackly thing, like the first line of Britney’s ‘Baby One More Time’. I don’t really use this too much as I think it’s more of an American thing, but when I do, I’m probably saying something snarky. Ira Glass explores this subject, and the way female reporters on the show are criticised for something that comes completely naturally to them. He found out through one linguist that there’s an age division, and that those under 40 find it authoritative, whereas those over 40 have the opposite reaction. Her advice? Get over it.
Personally, I agree. It seems the people flapping about this terrible wave sweeping the planet are just out of touch and need to understand that ways of speaking have been changing since, like, forever. They’d be better off examining their own prejudices than trying to police how other people harmlessly go about their lives. It’s only seen as a problem because some people decided to present it as one.
And they’re like, totally buggin’.