From Uptalk to Vocal Fry, Women Are Prolific Language Innovators

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S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter. And this week, you know, we’re going to do something I wanted to focus on for a long time. We dance around it in various episodes, but it’s time to come back to it because it’s been a while since I’ve done an episode really about this. I want to do women’s language. How do women talk? How does it differ from the way men talk and why it’s a multifarious subject. And let’s just jump right in. I say, well, how do women talk as opposed to how men talk? And notice how if we’re coming from English, then it’s a question that I ask and you might start scratching your chin. You think that women tend to have higher voices than men? Men tend to have lower voices. But beyond that, which frankly is not very interesting, is there a such thing as women speech versus men speech? And the truth is, if you’re dealing with English or really with most of the languages of Western Europe, what some linguists have sometimes half jokingly called standard average European, then it seems like kind of an abstract question. But really, once you go beyond that, there are stark differences. Speakers of I would venture to say most of the world’s languages wouldn’t have to scratch their chins at all. For example, good old Russian. Let’s say that I’m trying to think of something at random in English. You say, hey, for example, she persisted. OK, well, if it was a guy who was doing the persisting, you would say he persisted. It’s persisted in both cases. Well, in Russian, if you you know, many of them try to do persist because I’m gonna get the aspect wrong or something. So in Russian. Let’s just take an ordinary verb. Like to know if I say as a man I knew, then I’d say yes, no. Okay. Now, if I were a woman, I would say, yes, Nahlah. I can’t say he has not. I have to say yes. And so the verb is marked as feminine. That happens in the past tense in Russian and other Slavic languages. So, you know, there’s no hiding it. If I knew. He does know. If she knew. She’s not. We don’t have that kind of suffix in English or suffixes are gender neutral. It’s kind of boring, whereas you go to other languages and you get that kind of difference, but it goes even further. So, for example, one of the Native American languages of Louisiana, Colores Sarti, it’s not just a difference between nothing and are the way you have in Russian. If you say I say you say cos if you’re a man, Karl, if you’re a woman. Okay. If you say you say whole different business. The man says you say IFC’s for woman says it just esqe if you say he says and you’re ahí who says it. It’s cos if a woman says he says it’s car. So there are all sorts of differences and noticed this is a lesson I’m always trying to teach. When you’re dealing with languages spoken by relatively small groups that haven’t been learned much by adults, they are not less complicated than English, they are more notices as I say. You say he says the way the man would say it is I say his cos you say it’s X and he says it’s cause notice how irregular that verb is. It’s pitiless in a way that only the verb to be is in English. Anyway, that’s how Kosar t does its gender and then it goes even further. You find some of the most interesting things, especially in languages that aren’t known much beyond where they’re spoken. Remember we talked in the last show about say we talked as if it was a conversation. Then again, Gerard and I kind of talked. But remember when we talked about those Dravidian languages of India, the idea being that down in the bottom of India, there’s Tamil and Molly al Ohman, Telugu and Canada. But then there are other Dravidian languages which are completely different from Indo Aryan languages like Hindi and Marathi and Gujarati, completely different family. There are other Dravidian languages are kind of out of their range like that, some of them that are way up northeast surrounded by languages of other families such as Indo Arean. One of those languages I name check that it’s called Qu.

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S3: Well, you know there’s something to know about kook other than that it’s quote unquote out of its range.

S4: The business of language and gender is really interesting. So let’s say you come. That little phrase, I don’t know why he would use it, but if you say you come, if you say to a man, if you tell a man you come, then the way you say it to him is bah dye, whether you’re a man or a woman. But if you’re a man and you tell a woman to come, then you say, Bardy, if you’re a woman and you tell a woman to come, you say Bardeen. How men and women talk to women is different than how everybody talks to men. So you never know what there’s gonna be. I say, what is women’s language? And we think about American English when we go. It all seems so hazy. It wouldn’t be to a corrupt speaker, they would tell you about that and a great deal more.

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S3: So we come back to our question. If you’ve got those things in languages like Russian Kollar, Sarti and Kubik, what is there in English? Obviously, it’s going to be subtler stuff. It’s not that men and women talk exactly the same, but it’s gonna be things that you have to kind of scratch the surface. Now, in one of my earlier shows, I spoke with Queen King God linguist Deborah Tannen. We had that interview with her and we talked about how women use language. And that was very interesting. But what we want to know is what about on the level of words and sentences? Do we have things that women are doing that’s different in terms of how words are put together, in terms of what many of us think of linguistics as being at heart, although that can be kind of arbitrary. What about sentence stuff? What about putting thoughts together? Do women do that kind of thing differently? And the truth is, they do, but it’s not in ways that would be evident to us walking around in the world.

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S2: And one of the most interesting things about how women are different with speech than men is that women are more innovative, as we linguists put it. And a more transparent way of saying it is that as the language gradually changes, the sorts of things that take a language from being old to middle to modern English as the language morphs along.

S3: It’s women who are doing the things that are changing it before men do it. Women are the leaders of change. Women for the most part. Change language. It’s mostly a subconscious process. But women are the ones who initiate the new stuff and send it to the sky.

S4: And the men are kind of standing around in the background with their arms folded. That’s just the way it’s been for a very long time. So, for example, it used to be that in English you had the subject form I and the object form me. And then in the same way you had he him, she, her vais them.

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S3: And then with you it was easy as subject and you as object. That’s the way it was at first.

S5: So when you hear hear ye, that is ye hear ye people hear me, hear ye as opposed to you, which was used as an object.

S3: So a sentence from fourteen seventy seven by one. Elizabeth Bruce, she says, and cousin, if it please you to come to top Croft because the U was an object. But if the subject and it’s ye so. Simon stalwart in 14 eighty-two says if ye shall please anything that I may do by that time or after. If you show, please, not you. So please, that would have been incorrect.

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S4: Well, after a while the pronoun started being streamlined in various ways, and one thing that had to go was this difference between ye and you. It’s women who started that tidying up of things. It was a change that happened. Nobody is really paying attention to it. But we can look back on the documents and see that it was women who started that new interpretation of how you was gonna be used.

S3: There’s one beautiful sentence that shows the toggle. It’s 15 thirty nine. And a woman writes, but I assure you, my lord, that I thought you had been in the boat and would have brought me to the ship as you said you would. So she switches right in the same place as you said ye would. And so the distinction is falling away by 15 39, even though it was still fairly solid in the late 40s, hundreds. And get the name of the woman who wrote this honour, Plantagenet. Have you ever known an honour rather than honour Blackman? I haven’t. And I don’t know honour Blackman. But Magin of somebody whose name honour Plantagenet. I just like to have that as a neighbour. But she’s dead. But in 15, 39, that is what she said. As you said, you would women lead that change or hear something else? This is one of the most interesting aspects of 21st century English, and it’s something called vocal fry in the literature. It’s definitely a phenomenon and I hate to play a track again so close to when I first did it. But wonderful. Vello Leavelle on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had this so perfectly and had a line that exemplified it so perfectly that let’s play her from one of the later episodes using an absolutely delicious vocal fry. She’s pushing it. She’s making fun of it. But actually it’s almost not caricatured in the way some people use this today. Here it is.

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S6: She’s hot stuff. Why do you care?

S7: Because you have some re-union, intrigue happening. And I’m here for it. I’m an old married lady. The romantic. Part of my life is over forever. You’ve been married for five minutes now and I’m so happy, but there’s no drama. I love drama.

S4: That element of going down into the lower register and having that little bit of buzz in your speech when you want to emphasize something, that’s something which in the 21st century women have started and then the men start jumping into it and it’s happening very quickly. But it begins with women. It’s this little change in just how it sounds to be an ordinary American speaker. And today can be almost hard to even think of it as to use something else from the 21st century, to think of it as a thing. And the best example of this is from the journalist Sarah Canek. And you can hear her going from being in her 30s to being in her 40s over the 21st century, actually developing this vocal fry manner of speaking. And there’s nothing cartoonish about it in the way that Vela Lavelle was doing. It’s just a different kind of tincture to the way women and now a great many men talk. What am I talking about? Here’s the difference. Here’s Sarah config in the year 2000. Very ordinary report.

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S8: I am in Austin sitting in the back of George W. Bush’s dusty blue Lincoln Town Car. He’s twisting a gum wrapper around and around his finger, and he’s grouchy. He’s fighting the flu. I find out later. But right now, I think I must be letting him down somehow.

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S4: See, that sounds to me like it reminds me of driving around in my green Honda Civic out in California in the year 2000, not knowing quite what was ever going to happen to me. That was that. Now, 2014, basically, 15 years later. Here’s the same Sarah Canek talking about the same sorts of things. But listen to that br quality that there is in her voice.

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S9: By this point and I am not a detective or a private investigator, not even a crime reporter. But yes, every day this year I’ve tried to figure out the alibi of a 17 year old boy. Before I get into why I’ve been doing this. I just want to point out something I’d never really thought about before I started working on this story. And that is it’s really hard to account for your time in a detailed way. I mean, how do you get to work last Wednesday, for instance, drive, walk, bike. Was it raining? A Sure. Did you go to any stores that day? If so, what did you buy? Who did you talk to?

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S2: Isn’t that neat? And it’s not anything. I don’t know Sara caney, but I doubt if she was thinking about that. Now I know what you’re thinking. People’s voices get lower as they get older. But you know not. From 2000 to 2014, when you’re talking about somebody in basically their early prime of their lives. So, for example, I can hear myself on the radio in the year 2000 and I didn’t sound like this in the year 2000. I sounded pretty much like this. I think some of us are thinking of something like to return to one of the themes of this show when I’ve been hosting it.

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S3: Lucille Ball, listen to Lucille Ball. This is her in I Love Lucy in 1957.

S10: This is just a standard Lucy voice that I’m dead. I just mean that I have all the responsibility. I’m the one that has to sit down and worry about whether you’re getting all the work done or not. Now I’ll just make you a deal. Next year, I’ll sit home and worry and you go out, nail your thumb to a telephone pole.

S4: So there she is. Well, fast forward 14 years. Let’s make it the same period. Here’s Lucille Ball on. Here’s Lucy in 1971.

S11: And listen to the voice, Lucy. Do you think maybe we could get him to invest in our show? Oh, are you kidding? You could squeeze a dollar out of Harry with a dress.

S4: So clearly something has happened and maybe we’re imagining that sort of thing.

S3: Not necessarily, Lucy. But remember, Lucille Ball smokes like a racehorse. And so a lot of that was the cigarettes. I’m gonna take a guess that Sarah Canek does not smoke. And so whatever this is, it’s not that her voice changes so much over just 14 years. It’s that subconscious senses of how one produces a tone kind of morph along. Just because they do. Cloud formations change. So does how you produce your vocal sound.

S4: None of us think about it. But in terms of it moving to the point that that pleasant little birx is something that I now expect in, say, all of my students, whatever their gender. That’s something that women started and then men pick it up later.

S3: You know, actually, in terms of the lower registers of the female voice, we could use a song here. And I want to play Lisa Kirk, who was a fine singing actress of the mid 20th century. This is her in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first flop, Allegro. Allegro didn’t work for a lot of reasons, one of which was that, frankly, it was mostly kind of boring. But as you can imagine. Listen to the score today in their many delights. A song that never really got around but was pretty catchy was called The Gentleman Is a Dope. And this is Lisa Kirch singing that song in 1949 on the unfortunately truncated and nastily recorded cast album of Rogers and Hammerstein’s first flop Allegro.

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S12: Gentleman is a man of many folks.

S13: A clumsy Joe who wouldn’t know from a gentleman is a dope and not my cup of tea.

S14: Why do I get to.

S12: Gentlemen, right? No, this cake will come. You’ll take it.

S1: And Gentleman by Lisa Kirk started accidentally falling down into the orchestra pit at the end of that song. She did it by accident one night and got a big hand. Then the next night, she went out there and she fell into the orchestra pit again on purpose.

S3: And Richard Rodgers told her to stop doing that. Another example of something that women start is something that I did a whole show about. You know, if only one episode of my Lexicon Valley survived. I wanted to be the one about no one.

S4: You were that particular trait where you have that elongation and that are at the end. That is something that women have started over the past 10 or 15 years. And there is all indication that it’s gradually going to jump the fence and men are going to start taking it up, too.

S3: And you know, Béatrice, given that you do not talk like your peers, I knew that this had really caught on when even you said, I know the last week it is in now because Beatrice does it. But listen to if you don’t quite know what I mean. Schitt’s Creek, a show that was recommended to me by one of your listeners, actually. And thank you. This is Alexis of Schitt’s Creek who uses this feature quite a bit.

S6: So just talk to Ted. He’s devastated, obviously, but he did say that it’s probably for the best because he still hasn’t lizzard his place and I have absolutely no desire to be there.

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S3: So women change the language. The changes at first seem like they’re either nothing or they seem like wispy little peculiarities. But you take all of these things and you pile them on top of one another. And next thing you know, the language is a very different thing than it used to be in, say, 200 years. Somebody who describes actual spoken English might describe some sort of particle that you put after a sentence to indicate that you are upset or amused or surprised at this o particle. We’re listening to that up. Parting off of what used to be sentences that didn’t end with an A at all.

S2: It’s fascinating. And so what this means is that language changes mostly beneath the level of consciousness, but it’s women who are changing it. Where men lead the change is where it’s something vernacular and stigmatized and thought of as wrong. If that sort of thing starts taking over and that’s not usually the case. But if that sort of thing starts taking over, it’s men who do it, not women. Women don’t use the vernacular as readily as men. They certainly use it, but men just bathe in it. Here’s a classic example. Martha’s Vineyard way back in the early 60s. William Labov, who is the originator of the subfield today, called socio linguistics. And he is still alive and working. Early 60s. He went up to Martha’s Vineyard and he noticed that a certain group of people were saying night instead of night that a certain group of people were saying a boat instead of about just a sort of little thing. So most people are saying about a night. But some people are saying a boat and night. That had always been something that was associated with people who lived there, who were not of particularly broad horizons. It was seen as provincial to be somebody who says night instead of night about instead of about. It was just a little little thing in the language that marked you as somebody who hadn’t gotten around much. It was seen as quaint. Well, it had been on its way out, but all of sudden in the early 60s, Labov noticed that certain people were doing it a lot more and they were keeping it. That was men. It was young men who suddenly started holding onto this provincialism when it had before almost completely disappeared. It was vernacular. In other words, it was stigmatized. And yet the men were holding onto it because for them, it was a badge of membership in that community. In the early 60s, there was pressure in Martha’s Vineyard because all these outsiders are coming in building houses.

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S3: People from the city who had seen musicals like Allegro and were singing The Gentleman is a Dope. Well, if you are a native of the area, you maybe didn’t want all these people coming in and leading a lot of your young people to want to go off to New York City so they could sit through shows like Allegro. And so these young men kind of resented the outsiders in one way that they kind of bonded with one another and subconsciously expressed their frustration was by talking more local. Lee than they had before more locally than the generation of young men before them had the language started changing and actually started going in the reverse direction that had been going in that way.

S1: And it’s the men who were leading it. You wouldn’t have expected it to be women because women are less likely to embrace the vernacular in that way. Or let’s use a very technical piece of jargon black ification. Today’s American English. The black ification of American English. More gently, I would put it as the browning. But quite simply, these days, if you listen to many and I want to say most, but I’ll say many, because I really only know so many people, many white men below a certain age, then quite without them intending it, they have a black dusting to their speech that their parents did not have.

S2: And I know that because I’m now old enough to have gone to college with their parents. I didn’t go to college when people were wearing straw hats, but I definitely remember that even if you were kind of a pot smoking guy who had a lot of sex and got around, it was kind of laid back.

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S1: You weren’t laid back with a black aspect to your speech. You you did it in a white way. Whereas today that person and, you know, I’m picturing about three people, their sons now have a kind of black ified way of speaking. And they’ve been whole studies that have shown that if you chart this sort of thing, for example, there’s a neat study by Mary buchholtz and Kawana Lopez on this, as you can see in movies, but it’s definitely in real life, too. You see that it’s men who are leading that change. And remember, black English, as I’ve always said, is completely coherent and even nuance. But let’s face it, it is also stigmatized. It is way too often thought of as off English, English without rules. Bad English. And that means that to the extent that mainstream English has this black flavor, people are embracing something which to an extent is stigmatized. And wouldn’t you know, it’s guys it’s mostly guys who do this. There’s some women, but it’s men who are leading that change. So, for example, just, you know, impressionistic. We take a time traveller from 1975 and have that person move into the future and listen to a routine by Aziz on. Sorry not to see it, just to listen. If he wasn’t making some reference to his South Asian heritage, that person from 1975 would probably assume that Aziz Ansari was black. That would not have been true of Aziz Ansari in nineteen seventy five, whereas somebody like Ali Wong will do a sprinkling here and there. But nobody would ever listen to her from any era and think that it was a black woman up on stage. So black vacation, that is something that men lead in. And you know what’s interesting is that the parameters change. And so it’s these days that men flout Prestes, that men embrace the sort of open the beer can kinds of forms in a way that women don’t, because in a time when formality was much more stringent and being a legitimate person meant observing certain rules of courtesy and deportment and this simulation that now seems so stiff to us today. Say go back about 200 years ago and before in higher society in a time like that, often it was men who avoided the vernacular forms. And the vernacular forms were associated with women who at the time tended strongly to be less educated, to stay indoors more and have much more prescribed lies. And so an example of that double negatives, I don’t see nothing that is perfectly normal in languages all over the world. That is perfectly normal if you think about it in just about any kind of English you can think of, except the dialect that happened to become standard English, where instead of saying I don’t see nothing which makes perfect sense as it wouldn’t say French etc., you have to say I don’t see any thing and we just say it and say it and say nothing about what a weird way that is to express the negative. I do not see any thing as opposed to a high don’t see nothing. That’s something that happened in one breaches wearing dialect region in the south of England where standard English happened to develop. And so here we are today where we’re taught that I don’t see nothing is wrong or slang. You kind of keep that to yourself. You put deodorant on it as opposed to the proper. I don’t see anything. Well, what’s interesting is that it was men who led the change in that part of England from the good old fashioned bail. Wolf. Canterbury Tales. I don’t see nothing into. I don’t see anything. So even Billy Shakespeare, for example, you can find weird sentences in it that people nowadays quietly kind of clean up. So, Henry, the fourth part, too. You know, we’re in the Henry ad.

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S2: At one point, Falstaff says it’s never none of these dimir boys come to any proof. There’s never none of these demure boys come to any proof. That’s the line. Now watch the brilliant chimes at midnight.

S3: This is Orson Welles who takes the Henry ad and makes something truly gut wrenching from it, but chimes at midnight here. Orson Welles is big surprise. He’s Falstaff. And notice that despite that, Falstaff is supposed to be this beery sort of person, that the way Welles quietly puts it is there’s never any of these demure boys come to any proof he has to change it.

S15: Listen, John, thanks. This same sober blooded boy to talk love me. Not a man cannot make him laugh. But that’s no mommy. He drinks no wine. It’s never any of these. Give me your boys, damn it. Sin drink. So over over.

S16: Cool foods and colors, which some of us should be. But inflammation.

S17: A good sheriff said to hold up Phoenix, he just sends me into the brain, drives me there.

S15: Foolish, dull and cruddy vapors, which makes my area delectable shapes which delivered the voice. The tongue, which is the best becomes excellent, which the second sentence is warming.

S2: So even though he says sheriffs’ instead of Sherry. Because Sherri’s comes from the Spanish city of Cruddas. And so you drank sherries, but people thought that the soul was a plural, and so people started calling it sherry. So technically, Sherry is a mistake. One of those things, but it’s still sheriffs’ in Shakespeare’s time. So Wells allow something odd like that. It’s talking about this sheriffs’ on this weird soundtrack, but not there’s never none of these demure boys. And that’s because today it sounds so bizarre that he figured he’d just, you know, keep our attention on other things such as him. But to Shakespeare, there’s never none of these dimir boys come to any proof was perfectly normal. And it was men who led the way out of it. At a time when you walked around in stockings, even as a man and you fought duels over nothing and died in New Jersey. But things have changed now. Men embraced the vernacular much more. And we see the pattern that I described. Year after year after year. And by the way, speaking of being overly mannered, if you want to know how to pass for a gentle person in Edith Wharton’s living room, you thinking of going back in time? Well, if you’re going to have canvas back duck in those living rooms, then you have to know certain things about how you are expected to speak. And you know what? The only way you can know is to subscribe to Slate Plus, because I’ll be discussing that in today’s Slate Plus segment appended to this episode. It’s just like a little tag and you can only hear it if you pay a nominal fee. And sometimes I use songs in it. Sometimes I have anecdotes, but you can’t hear it. I have never heard one of these segments myself unless you subscribe to Slate Plus. And for that nominal fee, not only do you get my little tag, but you don’t have to hear any commercials read by me or anybody else. And your money will pay not only for my show, but for all of Slate’s marvelous other podcasts. We need the extra help. So if you want to know how to pass as a gentle person and Edith Wharton’s living room, then you’ve got to get Slate Plus for a nominal fee. Today, the question is why? Why is it that women lead in language change and men just sit belting on the sofa? Why is that? Women let the language change in quiet ways that build up. Men only change the language by holding on to these stigmatized things sometimes. And you know something else? Sidebar. That’s interesting. If the change isn’t creating anything new. But it’s just reshuffling the deck. Then there is no sex difference. It’s interesting to fully understand something. You have to also consider how really boring cases. You have to understand that sometimes you just get churn. So FERC’s Hample here is something and it really does interest me in that it’s an unexpected result. But you have to know that this exists. Ever since the 60s, Canadians have been saying obviously more than of course. Isn’t that boats? It’s this fact.

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S3: So obviously, instead of of course, it sounds normal to us now, obviously, but it’s a little modern and you can even wrap your head around it thinking about somebody who is really getting along in years. They do say, of course, more than obviously this is a study of Canada. I’ll bet it would hold in the United States, too. This study is by Sally Taleo, Monta and Jennifer Smith. Sally was on one of my early episodes. I interviewed her. And this is work that she’s done since. And Sally is incredibly productive. She has not spent the past few years only looking at that one little thing. But what’s interesting is that there has been no gender difference in that use of obviously over of course, women do not use obviously more and never have.

S4: Men haven’t let it either. It just kind of happens. But when the language is taking on something new, it’s conditioned by gender. So what’s going on? I think really it’s not so much that we want to say women lead like they’re going out with a helmet and a sword and the men just sit. I think it’s that language changes naturally and women are okay with that. Men are more uptight. The men are held back. And so we’re less likely to do new things with the language that it wants to do, just because systems morph, because we always want to be a little more expressive than we were before when the joke wears off. That’s what all languages wanna do. Women. Jump right in. Men for some reason. You know, they only want to go on little roller coaster. They don’t want to go on the loop de loop. That seems to be the way things are.

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S2: So the guys just kind of. And, you know, it’s time for a song. I want to Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme may kick lately. For some reason. And so this this is from what makes Sammy run. There was a musical of that. And it was in the early 60s right around when Bill Labov was publishing his Martha’s Vineyard study. So, of course, we have to play something from what makes Sammy run. This is Steve Lawrence playing a younger Sammy Glick in the musical. And this is Alan Aldo’s father, Robert, who was a musical theater person. He was in Guys and Dolls and they’re singing a charmingly nasty duet.

S18: You help me just like Edifice. Rex, you help me. Just like Oscar Wilde. Help sex like a snake. Helps baby birds back to their nest. Like it helps to find a gun when you’re depressed.

S19: Like it helps a girl to fly a rabbit test, like gifts that tick, like a cynic like that. That’s how you help me.

S20: I don’t understand, Mr. Manheim. You’re the only person other penalty attention to me.

S19: The feeling that, well, when I did something with you, it sank in oh, it sank in like knives in back like Lizzie Borden saying, oh, wait a second, I wanted you to give birth to me when I love ever give me a break.

S21: I owe you what? Now. Runnoe, my. Thanks for this, I’ll choke up and get sloppy. Never mind the bar. Now it’s Sammy’s turn. I can feel hurt. What am I, dirt? When I came to you with my first review, did you say son? Very well done. I made it wrong. Toreport my stuff. Called it lukewarm. Thank you for that.

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S4: Shakespeare said please drop dead. You know, that was Conolly. Well, Jared, I don’t know. Never mind. Nobody like Jared. Boy, did I catch it on Twitter for that. Don’t worry, folks. I was just being kind of meta. And thank you for not minding that. I don’t have a companion. Hoo. In any case. Just think what this means. We can combine what I’ve been talking about here with what I talked about with Deborah Tannen about language in use and we can look at the way women tend to be more cooperative in how they talk to people and that even that leads the language to change. So as for example, up talk, it didn’t just happen. I mean, when you make a statement, but you phrase it like a question and I sound like I’m making fun of it. And of course, one can. But actually, that is the way people under a certain age and sometimes above at this point. I have heard people in their 50s doing this because it’s not that new anymore. But this thing that sometimes called up talk, it’s something that happens in steps. It’s not that women all of a sudden started doing that. You know, one February day, it’s like the game of telephone where something starts in one place and it goes from one ear to another. And then what comes out on the other end is fascinatingly different. This is part of the fascination of language. So somebody says the capital of Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg. And they mean that as a state. And how do you get to that point? Well, it starts with actual questions. So did he go to the store? Well, when you ask a question, there’s also an international pattern. You could say, did he go to the store? But you don’t say that. You say, did he go to the store? Okay. Now that melody becomes a piece of grammar in a way by itself, because you can say he went to the store and here you don’t have the business of the. Did he go to the store? You can just make a statement in itself. But had the melody be the only thing that’s indicating that it’s a question. So he went to the store. OK, now if that means question, then you can have that go from meaning something to indicating something. It can go from having a meaning to really being about establishing and checking and maintaining the relationship between you and the person you’re talking to, including thinking about things that are implied rather than explicitly said. In other words, we’re doing what linguists unfortunately call pragmatics. That’s a really clumsy name. But those softeners I talked about some episodes ago are great examples of pragmatics. And so what it means is that you can go from. Did he go to the store, too? He went to the store, too. So I went to the store. And the reason that you’re doing that is because you’re not actually asking a question, but you’re using that melody because you’re establishing what the other person that they’re always with you. You’re kind of abstractly asking a question. So I went to the store. But you don’t want the person to answer. You don’t want them to say, I’m listening. You’re just giving the indication that you want them to keep coming along with you. So that melody no longer only means question. It also is an on going query as to whether or not the person is listening to you. What the assumption being that they are. So I went to the store. It’s actually a really neat thing going step by step. There’s a beauty to it. And men are less likely to allow the language to do that sort of thing. That’s the sort of thing that women engage in rather than men. Although something to note is that it’s not necessarily that sorority girls and actually it really has been traced to sorority girls that sorority girls in the 1980s became uniquely concerned with whether or not the people they were talking to were listening to them. This is human. It’s just that language has various strategies for taking care of this. And so, for example, I once spoke to a man who was close to 100 and it was the mid 90s and we only really had so much to say.

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S2: And so at one point I asked him, you know, today everybody doesn’t like how much people use like in their speech. Was there any equivalent of that back in the 1920s? And he thought about it for a while. And he said, yeah, there was. And I said, what was it? And he said, actually, back then, everybody used to say that people said, you know, too much. Yeah, I remember. Well, you know what he meant, he meant this. Let’s play a radio show from around that time. It’s 1934. Just think it’s at the point where if you’re listening to 1935, you’re listening to people talking. Eighty five years ago. This is Ed WINZ radio show. Most of us would know Edwin as the uncle laughing on the ceiling in Mary Poppins. So loved to love him.

S3: He had been radio comedian, vaudeville comedian, of course. And here he is in 1935. And what you want to listen for here is the way he uses you know, I know the jokes are no longer funny, although there’s something that makes me laugh about him just because of the vocal quality. But listen to the way he uses, you know, if you want to hear.

S22: Right. I. I certainly do want my head high up, you know. Go ahead. Right. Right. All right. The second day, if you don’t want to get. You better. My, your. I don’t know what to do. I’ve got to go. All right, everyone. All right. No, wait, wait. How do you to.

S3: So he says grandma dropped an egg on the head of a chicken right under her, you know? Well, what’s the you know. And people really did use, you know, that way. I’ve heard very old people using it and some who aren’t that old. So dropped an egg on the head of a chicken right under her. You know, that, you know, is probing into the head of the other person in the same way as today.

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S2: The quote unquote, sorority girl might say dropped an egg on the head of a chicken right under her. That’s the same thing. It’s just that Edwin did it with the, you know. And so, please, Sean. These things are done in different ways, in different areas. Notice also that Edwin said first instead of first, completely different vowels back then anyway. Stephen it?i on a show about women. I can’t just have him. And so what about it?i? This is her in a musical they did together called Golden Rainbow. The title tells you all you need to know. But it really did have some great songs in the brief time that it existed in 1968. This is it?i singing He needs me now. Listen to that glorious voice. Listen to this wondrous arrangement. This is one of my favorite cuts of all time.

S23: O o o o.

S24: It’s me.

S4: I know some of you are wondering about this and I am going to touch on it briefly. What about gay women? Do gay women talk in some way? And it’s one of those things you might think people probably think that lesbians have low voices and that’s stupid. And indeed, that really doesn’t do anything for us at all. But the question might be, is there a such thing as gay female speech as opposed to straight female speech? And, you know, there’s been some research on this. And it’s interesting in that a lot of the findings are counterintuitive. What’s interesting is the counterintuitive. And so do gay women tend to have lower voices than other women? Slightly, not nearly to any stereotypical extent. But if you measure these sorts of things somewhat lower pitch, they tend to talk on than other women a little. But then there are other things that are, of course, tendencies, but strong winds, slightly less clear enunciation than straight women. Now, not sloppy, but just somewhat less. And yes, it parallels men as opposed to women in that way. Then something else that you find in too many gay women for it to be an accident is that. Get this. This is very interesting.

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S25: The vowels o, o and R are more like you o and R than in most straight women.

S4: So they’re just a little further back in the mouth, infinitesimally further.

S25: So hoo hoo. Oh, oh, ah ah.

S4: Just slightly. And you never think of it, but it’s definitely there. And not only can you measure it, but when you play lots and lots of women’s voices, some straight and some gay to listeners and just say, do you think this person is straight or gay, then much more than could be an accident. Those vowels alone will tip a listener off. And of course, the listener doesn’t know anything about which the helzer back and which vowels are front. But that little bit would help a person think, well, if I had to say, I would think that that woman might be gay. These are fascinating things.

S3: And the topic of gay speech is, of course, a rich one. And I am going to do a show about it soon. And you know what? Some of you are thinking that now I’m going to play the song Ring of Keys from Fun Home. No, that would be too easy. I’m gonna go out on something that is also beautiful. This is Peter Menton, cocktail pianist extraordinaire, playing a song from the movie Forty Second Street in 1932 that you only ever hear on the soundtrack. It’s the love theme from Forty Second Street blinking. You’ll miss it, but at a certain point the orchestra just wails its way through it. I always thought it was beautiful. And this is the only time that you can hear it isolated and played beautifully on the piano by Peter Minton. What made him pick it?

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S26: I don’t know. But Peter, thank you for this. Just listen to this pretty song. There are no words to that, but in any case, you can reach us at Lexicon Valley at Slate.com. That’s Lexicon Valley at Slate.com to listen to past shows and subscribe here just to reach out, go to Slate.com, slash Lexicon Valley. You know, there should be words to that. You know, I’m going to try to write some words that you guys you all might want to try to. There should be words that that pretty song love theme from funny things. Anyway, Mike volo is, as always, the editor. And I am John McGraw.

S2: Edith Wharton, you’re in the age of innocence and you’re having your canvas back duck and you’re in one of those brownstones and those people were very self-conscious about the way they talk. This high bourgeoisie, these very rich people and it’s fascinating to read guides to speech from the second half of the urban eighteen hundreds in the United States. Oh, the things that you would get rapped on the knuckles for. So you could say, well, I found the last two, but now you’re not supposed to say last two unless you’re talking about them as being a pair with then there being other pairs. And so last two could only mean last pair. Otherwise you’re supposed to say to last. So the two last children. Let’s go sit down. And the two last seats, because he can’t say last two seats unless the seats come in pairs. I shit you not people actually cared about that. Or one of the oddest things if you could actually hear people like that talking is that they would talk about sitting in a balcony, not balcony, but a balcony and they meant it. That’s how you said it. Daffy Duck, if there had been a such thing as animated cartoons at the time, would have said you’re despicable, you’re despicable. You didn’t say despicable. That was putting the accent on the wrong syllable. You had to say despicable instead of despicable. Weirdest thing. Anyway, I talked about the capriciousness of past tense forms on our second to last show, and I mentioned that it used to be that you said lighted rather than lit. Lot of your skeptical I got more mail than probably any human being has ever gotten on the difference between lit and lighted. Well, just to give you a sense of what I meant, where an Edith Wharton House of Mirth. 4:41 strange story. Do not watch the movie. Bullitt Movie really did not work. We all like Gillian Anderson, but they saddled her with a real turkey anyway. House of Mirth. Nineteen oh five. Fifth Avenue is so imperfectly lighted, not lit, which is what we’d say today. Fifth Avenue is so imperfectly lighted. Lighted. Weird because we weren’t saying lit yet or the prospect had lighted up. Why is that Edith Wharton voice? How did she probably really sound? Probably like this. The prospect had light it up. Stephany’s colourless existence. So the prospect had light it up. Miss Stephany’s color, its existence now, I would say lit up. But she said. Light it up. Miss Stephany’s colour, its existence. So 4:41, its lighted. It’s not lit. And this isn’t only an affectation of people who wore too many clothes. Think about Shirley Jackson. Sure, it sounds black. You would think that Shirley Jackson was a black writer, but she was really not black at all. In any case, you find lighted rather than lit in her work. So, for example, in the bizarre little story Elizabeth were in 1949, I believe she lighted a cigarette with one of Daphne’s matches still on the edge of the desk and looked blankly at the letter to Mr. Burton. The one thing that’s often that sends is the lighted today. Certainly with a cigarette, something, a slang is that she lit a cigarette with one of Daphne’s matches, not she lighted a cigarette with one of Daphne’s matches. And Shirley Jackson was very good at capturing vernacular speech. Her people jump right off of the page just in terms of how they talk. And so it’s not that she was an affected writer in 1949. Could have been at least the day before, the day before yesterday. So she lighted a cigarette is because Lit had not taken over yet. Just maybe an editor changed Lit to light it. But the fact that in nineteen forty nine cities, four years after World War Two had ended, you have somebody lighting a cigarette rather than lighting a cigarette. Shows you that these things are always in flux. And not just in the Middle Ages. But even the day before. The day before. The day before yesterday. And that is Slate Plus for this week.