November 12, 2013

Tracing "Valley Girl" type "uptalk" back to Dust-Bowl era Okies...

... using the evidence of a recording of a 1940 interview with Woody Guthrie.
I should also forestall the readers who will respond "But it doesn't sound like Woody Guthrie is asking questions!" by asking them to apply the same judgment to Taylor Mali's famous "Totally like whatever" screed. And then to tell me what the difference between "yes/no question rises" and other sorts of final rises really is — after reading this.

11 comments:

Jason said...

Okay, fine. Fer sure, fer sure.

Jason said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb21lsCQ3EM

Moon Unit Zappa "singing" "Valley Girl"

Lucien said...

When you think about the fact that Frank Zappa tried to use the medium of popular music to make fun of the way a younger generation was talking -- and actually succeeded -- it's an accomplishment of staggering difficulty.

(Plus he named two of his kids Dweezil and Moon Unit.)

The Godfather said...

The Mali poem (or screed, whatever) is really great, because it demands that the listener recognize that these linguistic habits undermine the force of whatever you're trying to say. However Woody Guthrie talked, his music made his points clear.

It's not just "valley girl" talk. A whole generation or more seems to have the idea that you should never state your position forcefully, for fear I guess of offending somebody. For years while I was working in the big DC law firm I was fighting the battle to get young lawyers to write like advocates (when they were supposed to be advocating) and without apology. The most frequent problem was the word "submit" (e.g., "Plaintiff submits that defendant's argument is unsupported by established precedent."). "Submit" says I don't really believe this, it's just the argument I have to make, so don't blame me if you disagree; I'm just playing the game here.

It may be that blog commenting is a good way to cure the tentativeness problem, because I see very little of that stuff in the comments on Althouse.com. But maybe it's just that most of the commenters are (like me) too old to be tentative.

Paddy O said...

It's a fair suggestion, but I'm not entirely taken with it.

One, you'd have to make a connection between the Okies and the Valley Girls in California. My impression is that valley girls were more upper middle class phenomena, which Okies were decidely not. Now the children of Okies would be the parents of valley girls, and I don't think that is the lineage.

My grandfather on my mom's side was born in Oklahoma in the 1920s. They came to California prior to the dust bowl, but not too much prior. Meaning they were from Oklahoma, but as my mom tells me they, as a family, rejected being called Okies. That was the poor folk who came from the Dust Bowl, a class distinction. Even still my grandfather and his father were farmers. The available land at the time wasn't in the San Fernando Valley but in the San Gabriel Valley, which is on the eastern edges of LA county.

Add to this the massive influx of immigration to LA in the war and post-war period and I suspect any direct Okie influence would have been diluted out except in immediate relationships.

And I don't really hear "Valley Girl" in Guthrie's responses even though I can hear what they're calling uptalk. There's a different inflection there though I can't quite say what it is.

traditionalguy said...

Discovery: American culture is Scots-Irish culture.

jimspice said...

Swedes indicate a question by dropping pitch. Also, certain words are spoken while breathing in. What would a Swedish valley girl sound like?

Char Char Binks said...

Guthrie had Huntington's disease, and it affected his breathing and voice towards the end of his life. I'm not sure if it would have in 1940.

Craig Howard said...

This is a linguistic stretch -- one I would have liked to believe -- but unconvincing in the end.

Uptalking isn't simply rising intonation, it's the turning of a normal emphatic phrase into a question as if asking for approval.

surfed said...

It goes back to the Old Northwest...your adopted neck of the woods. Tom Blake from Wisconsin, arguably the 2nd most famous/important surfer in it's history brought his vocalizations and his genius at surfboard design to Hawaii and California and invented the basically the whole life style of the surfer. Valley talk is a derivative of the way surfers have spoken since Mr. Blake invented the whole shebang in the late 1920's.

surfed said...

Addendum - He's buried in Ashland, Wisconsin.