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February 28, 2012

An Unexpected Source of Linguistic Richness

Learning the vocabulary and grammar of any language is difficult enough. If you then add variables like tones, accents and regional pronunciations, you have enough...

..to make a native speaker crazy - and a language learner frustrated beyond description.

In the English language, the American version in particular, words come from everywhere; songs, movies, industry, street slang and who knows where else.

Here's a source of language richness you may not have considered; teen-age girls. Yes, with all their seemingly ridiculous slang, slogans and pronunciations, our language is far richer - and certainly far more complicated - (or is that nuanced?) because of them.

Here's one example. Ever hear of vocal fry? Neither had until I saw this article. It's also known as creaky voice, and has a long history with English speakers.

A classic example of vocal fry, best described as a raspy or croaking sound injected (usually) at the end of a sentence, can be heard when Mae West says, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me” in the 1933 classic film She Done Him Wrong .

More recent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon used vocal fry when portraying contemporary American characters (Paltrow used it in the movie “Shallow Hal,” Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde”).

Another common teen girl expression is the word "like" used as a filler or place-holder. (Performance artist Taylor Mali was so, ahem, impressed by this use of "like" that he did a sketch based on a student who was a "like-addict". You can see it here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tshNfYWPlDg.

Taylor goes on to attack other trivializations of language use here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCNIBV87wV4.

Be sure to check these and other, ahem, contributions of teen-age girls to the ever changing landscape of our language here - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/science/young-women-often-trendsetters-in-vocal-patterns.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&ref=women.

I confess to being a word nerd, and I love the many possibilities and contradictions in a language as flexible and fluid as English.

Send us any words or phrases that make you crazy and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Posted by mmorf at February 28, 2012 12:59 PM


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