Gendered Speech

Certain ways of speaking, not only in terms of content but also prosodywise, are gendered as feminine, and, accordingly, stigmatized as degrading, condemned, castigated, censured, disapproved, publicly subjected to improvement and extermination, and reprimanded.

“Schoolgirl speech” in Japan, as Miyako uncoveres, was reconstructed as having a number of characteristics polluting the purity of educated Japanese speech: “From approximately 1887 through World War I, a surge of commentaries were written and circulated in the Japanese print media about the “strange” and “unpleasant” (mimizawarina) sounds issuing from the mouths of schoolgirls. Male intellectuals of various affiliations located the source of their dismay in utterance-endings such as teyo, noyo, and dawa which schoolgirls used. They called such speech forms “schoolgirl speech” (jogakusei kotoba). It was jarring to their ears; it sounded vulgar and low class; its prosodic features were described as “fast,” “contracting,” and “bouncing with a rising intonation”; and it was condemned as “sugary and shallow.”” (Miyako, 2006, 37).

Such telling examples do not belong solely to the pre-WW 1st Japanese past, they also mark the Western present. The discussion around “uptalk” bears remarkably misoginystic overtones. “Uptalk,” the employment of rising intonation in statements, supposedly transforming statements into questions, is intensely gendered as characteristic to women’s speech. Highly gendered public spheres of modernity intensely police feminized ways of speaking.

A brief overview of youtube videos regarding uptalk would yield to “The Weird Way Women Downplay Their Success” (https://youtu.be/fs9QhpmjWLs), a nameless video about “degradation of English language” (https://youtu.be/hjKMNyZ2oTc), and multiple videos of young women “uptalking” (for example, https://youtu.be/Tj4EIGje4dA) with comments as follows (numbers below the comment indicate “likes”):

“Tavor Runner 274 months ago
If you are contemplating suicide, this vid may very well push you over the edge.
9

echolot1 month ago
as annoying as they talk, i’d still love to be the meat in that sandwich.
1

væmpaɪər Lestat2 weeks ago
makes me wanna cut their fucking throat”

Women, on one hand, are socialized into presenting their opinions as ready to be retracted any moment, but on the other hand women are ridiculed exactly for that. Language ideologies of modernity require women to employ cadences of speech reconstructed as men’s cadences, as well as men’s manner of talking, in order to be construed and recognized as a confident, “successful” speaker.

Reference

Miyako, Inoue. Vicarious language: Gender and linguistic modernity in Japan. University of California Press. 2006

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