Linguistic Girl Power

We have dealt with numerous language issues such as the oddly misplaced apostrophe, the dangling participle and the new “like” on our blog, but what interests me in particular are the social factors that may or may not pull the strings behind the scene. Does education influence your attitudes towards the acceptability of the often preceived misuse of literally? Do younger people, described by Naomi S. Baron as the Whatever Generation, really accept anything when it comes to language usage? What role does gender play?

Gretchen McCulloch wrote an interesting piece on the role of the latter in language change arguing that young women “are the real language disruptors”. Sociolinguistics studies, such as the ones conducted by William Labov, have shown that women are the driving force behind linguistic innovation. Be it uptalk or the use of like. Women have often been blamed for these language disruptions; a term which I would like to see replaced by the more positively connotated innovations.

Rosie the Riveter

In her article, McCulloch indicates the role young women play in language innovation. What strikes me as intriguing, however, is that women, as opposed to men, have also been found to prefer standard language forms over non-standard forms, as shown by Trudgill (1974) in his study of English in Norwich. It seems as if women play a crucial linguistic role, not only when it comes to language innovation, but also to language maintenance. Read McCulloch’s article and let us have your thoughts on this subject.

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About Carmen Ebner

Carmen Ebner is a PhD candidate at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics and currently investigates attitudes towards British English Usage. Carmen is part of the project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public, which is supervised by Prof Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade.
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