Teenage girls have led language innovation for centuries
August 21, 2015
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Criticizing teenage girls for the way they speak is nothing short of a time-honored tradition. Many adults take issue with everything from slang to vocal fry. But Quartz's Gretchen McCulloch has a bone to pick with those critics. She argues that female teen linguists should be praised for their longtime innovation. They have been shaking things up. And it has been happening for centuries.
McCulloch argues that female teenagers are actually "language disruptors." They invent words. Many of them make their way into the everyday conversation.
"To use a modern metaphor, young women are the Uber of language," she writes.
William Shakespeare has long been seen as the poster boy for introducing words into the English language. Some have questioned his celebrated language disruptor status.
But young women may have been the true linguistic rebels. McCulloch notes that in a book. It is called Historical Sociolinguistics. It was published in 2003. Linguists Terttu Nevalainen and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg are talked about in the book. They are from the University of Helsinki in Finland. They surveyed 6,000 letters from 1417 to 1681. They found that female letter-writers changed the way they wrote. They did this faster than male letter-writers. The females led the adoption of new words. And they led the way in getting rid of words like "doth" and "maketh."
Women are regularly responsible for about 90 percent of linguistic changes today. That is according to McCulloch. Why do women lead the way with language? Linguists are not really sure. Women may have greater social awareness. They may have bigger social networks. Or they might even have a neurobiological leg up.
There are some clues to why men lag behind. A 2009 study estimated this idea. It looked at changing language patterns. It said that in language patterns men trail by about a generation.
That is largely due to adult male blowback against female stereotypes in speech. Think of vocal fry or uptalk. The fact that females have traditionally taken care of children in the past also plays a part. Chi Luu wrote that for JSTOR Daily in February. Men learn from their mothers. Women tend to learn new lingo from other women.
Gretchen Wieners was never able to make "fetch" happen. But it is clear that women have been changing language for a long time.
Not bad for a group of kids that get lots of flak for adopting new lingo.
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