In recent months, verbal linguistics have been a constant obsession. I keep noticing how speedily pronunciations are evolving, and thinking about how they have changed in the past.
Watching films made in the 1930s, I get a sense of the vogue way to speak when my grandmothers were young - what "modern" used to me - and I wonder how their voices differed from one another in their primes, based on the way I remember them before they died. Both Virginian, but from different places, different backgrounds. I can still hear my mom's mother's voice fairly clearly in my head.
Listening to younger women now - and knowing that, though my generation's ears often find it annoying and even unintelligent-sounding, vocal fry and creak are now considered signifiers of education and success - I listen for different types of this evolved valspeak, and try to understand where the annoying affectations of my own youth became the worthy attainments of a new age ... and I wonder how quickly another mode of speaking will take over, what *is* taking over, and how these things will sound to those finding their own, new voices. How quickly fashion will change.
I wonder, too, how much of this occurred - how quickly speech changed - before media developed and burgeoned and kept us constantly aware of how we and others sound. Those thirties movies came at an era when image was literally projected for the first time, and sound became an emblematic part of fashion.
Clearly, language has always changed its sound. If new ways of speaking had not always superseded old ways - in coinage, but just as fundamentally in sound and emphasis - we'd still be speaking in what we now like to call proto Indo-European roots.
It's hard not to think recorded sound and image have not affected the speed with which these changes occur. It seems only yesterday I was complaining about the ubiquity of people emphatically growling HUJAPASSENT to indicate their certainty about something, and now I haven't heard it in months. Already out of vogue? I'm not even sure when I last heard curate; but artisinal has been fairly popular for a couple of years.
Getting out of coinage trends and looking at pronunciation, current fashion sounds to fogeys of (say) my Certain Age ... well, actually infantile. There is a trend for both overstatement and inaccuracy in diction, and some of the inflections and emphases echo those of a child just learning to speak.
A sampling of pronunciations which seem to be crossing regional lines, so do not appear to be related to particular accents:
feahMAlee (family)MEEkup (makeup)
housiz (houses - first S sibilant)
housiz (houses - first S sibilant)
BEEdy (it took me some patience to understand this as a pronunciation of "beauty")The intensity of emphasis on consonants in middle of a word reminds old folks like me of a liddle kid's care in speaking words still new to their tongues - training the tongue to every part, every syllable of a word. It is adorable in a three year old, the way a toddler's emphatic way of walking is cute, as they learn refined balance.
In an adult - to more elderly adults - all this sounds considerably strange.
Here's where it gets REALLY interesting:
Considering how strange my slurring and curiously unsyncopated manner of speech must sound to those putting (let's face it) so much more effort into their speaking.
At Janet Reid's blog yesterday, we touched in the comments on the concept of dated voice, looking at slang and its changes since the 80s. But the actual mechanics of my tongue and lips, trained in a different generation, are themselves probably a giveaway of my age.
In the same way that, say Rosalind Russell's or Katherine Hepburn's youthful staccato and volume make people think that the acting in old movies was unnaturalistic, perhaps - my own seventies and eighties infused rhythms and inflections are distinct from the modes of speech in the under-thirty-five set right now, and probably sound artificial, if not downright lazy. It may be a more accurate signifier of my age than the old "check a woman's hands and elbows to see how old she really is" thing.
And oddly enough: Rosalind Russell was the absolute mistress of vocal creak ...
**Lest we think I'm talking only about female voices;
some of the most egregious infantile pronunciation currently available...