Suck-tastic, Craptastic, Straight From Crazytown Theory About Girls and Language

Image via iStockPhoto/Sean Locke

The New York Times recently ran an article entitled, They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve, about how new studies have found that girls and women direct language for the rest of the population.

The article is slightly condescending in tone, in that, well, just look at the title yourself. Then look at the little cartoon used to illustrate the author’s point.  They cite Valley Girls and the Kardashians as the evidence of girls’ influence on language. The rest of the article is about how girls are using language to create bonding relationships and to convey emotion. You know, girl stuff, acting cute and being cute. Even though it makes them appear stupid and not to be taken seriously.

I’d like to point out that just because researchers have only started studying female influence on language, it doesn’t make it a new phenomenon. Nor is it limited to trendy teenage girls with reality shows.  Have you read a “mommy blog” or “friended” a woman or two on Facebook? Women are inventing new words, new syntax, new inflections and sounds, adding new meaning to existing words every second of the day.

Nor do women use language simply to create bonds and convey their feelings. They use language to get what they want. They use language to make political points. They use language to draw boundaries — in the home, in the workplace, in politics. In every arena in which they participate and women and girls participate in every arena.

You should meet my friend Jenny. She appears to have invented a new word or phrase that conveys complex meaning for things that, as yet, have no known definition every time I talk to her. Just yesterday I learned the word Suck-tastic when a woman described the month of February on my Facebook page. I intend to use it frequently now.

Women have superpowers when it comes to listening to language. From the moment their babies are born mothers can distinguish their children’s cries for hunger, being tired and over-stimulation; they can tell their baby’s cry from that of another, they can detect complex levels of emotion in their children; they can hear a lie.

From the earliest of ages, girls can distinguish between a truth and a lie. Young girls will tattle on other girls for saying something cruel and hurtful like “I love your hair” or “that dress is so pretty.”

In other words, this condescending theory is craptastic and straight from Crazytown.

Words are the most powerful thing in the entire universe. In fact, we know from the Bible and many other faith and folklore traditions, that the universe was created with “The Word.” The pen IS more powerful than the sword. While men point out statistical evidence for this or that legislation, women bring the power to it by evoking emotion and personalizing the political by means of Story. I promise you that Story is one of the most powerful means of changing people’s understanding and changing their minds. Statistics evoke nothing in us, they don’t touch our humanity and they don’t invoke change. But if someone perceives the Story behind the statistics — that a child is going hungry, that people are left suffering for lack of healthcare, that women die from breast cancer leaving their beloved children without a mother, that gay teenagers are in such pain for lack of acceptance that they often consider suicide — only then do they consider changing their original beliefs and taking action.

Story is feminine domain.

Women make language their bitch. We direct the entire culture with it. We add layers of meaning where there is none. When called for, we can reduce the strongest, biggest man to a cowering wuss using language as a sword.  We seduce with language. We re-frame perceptions with language. We expose truths with language. We create definitions and invent new concepts with language. Words are our playground. Language is feminine domain. We conquer entire nations with it. There’s no stopping a girl or woman with something to say.

Women invented language.  So is it really new to discuss the inflections and intonations women use for effect?

 

  • deb

    Hi Tracee,
    While I agree with what you’re saying about girls/women and language, I have to respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the NYT article. I think the article’s title (and the cartoon) are actually intended to make fun of the idea that girl vernacular is just social, insecure or stupid (rather than actually portray it that way). The article points to the sophisticated and intelligent ways that young women use language. It also notes that the influence of such language has been long understood in linguistics (and so acknwledges that this is not a “new” trend in studying language). I just wanted to give the article it’s due.

    I agree with you on the importance of “the story” in influencing culture. And women have long been the bearers of those stories, carrying oral histories over generations for a variety of different cultures. these histories either served as the primary history for non literate cultures (or for oppressed cultures such as African American culture during slavery) or served as alternative histories, counterparts to the written word more publically produced by men. So while the NYT article might present “new” evidence about the linguistic influence of young girls today, it hardly marks the beginning of research on women and language. There’s lots of good stuff already noted on the subject.

    Thanks for bringing the subject to further light.
    deb.

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