The idea for this post came to me while reading Making Sense of “Bad English”: An Introduction to Language Attitudes and Ideologies by Elizabeth Peterson. One of the major points of the book is that those who do not use standardize English are discriminate for their use of “bad” English. But, clearly those who most often speak in this way are minorities, and so have one more burden on their shoulders. I will lay out Peterson’s main points, possibly with extra commentary from myself. And, add a section on transgender women
My main premise for this blog is that women, and even those speaking standard English, are affected by the discrimination of woman on the basis of how they speak, and I would add write. However a significant group and probably most younger women and teenagers tend to use language differently than men statistically speaking. This women’s form of English speech is non-standard or what Peterson calls “Bad” English. The differences between how the majority of women and men use language is significant in terms of numbers and usage. While many woman use standardize language, I would posit that they are discriminated against in other ways they use language. Women who desire to succeed in a man’s world must conform to how men use English language. And, there are differences. There are differences of word choice, sentence structure, intonation, and most apparent pitch.
Actually, she writes of how women use certain devices or manners of speech.
- Vocal fry is talking in a lower gravelly tone. When women use this type of speech at the end of a sentence it indicates that the speaker is finished. Funny that I have never heard of this before, nor can I remember hearing any woman speaking in this manner.
- Uptalk is when the speaker uses a rising intonation. This might seem like the speaker is asking a question, which may come across as not sure of what they are saying. “Like this is right isn’t?” This type of speech is more damning than vocal fry because it paints women as if they should not be taken seriously.
- The use of certain words like “like,” “sure,” well,” and “really.” Kind of like the way Valley Girls speak, but not so pronounce. This can be irritating to the listener. And, can indicate low social status. No wonder women are not given the more prestigious roles for the most part.
These three examples are most often spoken by young women in their youth. It is also a fair guide on what future speech will look like. These individuals are often innovators of linguistic change. But, they will not be credited with the power to change how future language is used, which is totally fucked up. They are just look down on by the current controllers of society and of what is like good or bad in this regard. You know who I am speaking of—men (yuck). It is also likely that men are able to get away with what they want. Think of
trump† grabbing a women’s crotch. If I were in charge, I’d have his hand chopped off. Radical right. Well, I can think of something else that could be cut off. Okay, most men are not quite like trump, but they have their ways to denigrate women nevertheless, and I am kidding about having anything chopped off, but is does make me super angry.
Women as a group are thought to use bad English. Of course, there is nothing paradoxical about the ability of some women for perfect diction. They speak flawlessly, but yet are still believed to be speaking at a lower level than men. Even men who cannot create a damn grammatical sentence. This should change. Each of us should be treated individually, and not as a part of a group. But, even if they are speaking non-standard English doesn’t mean they can’t communicate well.‡
I now come to what transgender women face. Their use of language and manner of speaking, if not trained to do otherwise singles them out. Here comes someone wearing a nice skirt and blouse, but when they speak, they are outing1 themselves. For some women pre-hrt they have a body like a men’s, which can get them outed too. For me it is not so much people knowing I am a transgender woman, but the disrespect shown by misgendering and/or the use of my deadname.2
So, what speech usage can out a transgender person?
- For one speaking in a lower pitch (this is probably the biggest outer). Now that I am fully transitioned I am rarely misgendered in person, but on the phone it is a fifty-fifty chance, flip of the coin. I have a phone voice that will work if I am consistent, which I am not due to the fact that with a distraction, such as being ask a question or asked to repeat myself I slip up. The odds can be altered if I introduced myself with my name first.
- Word usage is another outer. The same speech as that under number 3 above. Since, it is how some women speak or write. So, using them indicates that you are a woman more or less, and not using them can be an outer.
- Intonations used by women, popular among young women, but older women have been younger women, so chances are they use/used it too. One way is to have a rising tone. When I am on target with my voice it be will light and airy with a rising intonation (one good thing I learned and practice during voice training). If I speak in a monotone voice, which use to be my default speech, and I often fall back into it without concentration, could be an outer for me.
- I don’t think transgender women use vocal fry or are even aware of what it is. There was nothing said in my short period of voice training.
So, I have told you some (there are probably more than I wrote about) of the ways women’s speech put them in a lower status group in the current social order (by the rulers that be, men): Vocal fry, uptalk, and rising intonation. Also, I told you what speech acts that tend to out transgender women: low pitch, lacking in extra words (the likes and sures), lacking higher intonation toward the end of a sentence, and those, especially young transgender women, where vocal fry is not being used. Although it wasn’t in the book, I wanted to include this transgender part. As it is personal and also educational.
† I am using strikeouts and not capitalizing
trump because I don’t think of him as a person hence the disrespect shown here. The reason I am doing this is he has been diagnosed as a psychopath by his niece, Mary Trump. “Ms. Trump holds a PhD from the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies and taught graduate courses in trauma, psychopathology.”3
‡ I believe that those who police language even when they can perfectly understand what is being said, are just being busy bodies and should mine their own bees wax. What is the purpose except to make them feel superior. As far as I know there is no language god saying what is right or wrong, and those who do this are flat out wrong. Use language any way you damn want.
[Note – words in italics marks words or phrases that young women might use.]
1 Outing is when a transgender person is pointed out as such. This can be done by others, but also the transgender woman herself, although inadvertently. Transgender men can be outed as well.
2 A deadname is what that person might have gone by pre-transition and printed on their birth certificate unless they have had it change. There is legal ways of make your name legal and gender as well.