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Androgyny and the Feminization of Male Speech

That young people in America in the early twenty-first century are tending toward an androgynous self-fashioning is beyond doubt, but a sub-category of this trend should also be noted as it pertains to speech patterns. Young males (adolescents and those in their twenties, in particular) are steadily adopting the language of the female members of their cohort, in two salient and conjugate respects: (1) interrogative intonation on subordinate clauses in declarative sentences; and (2) the (non-quotative) use of the word like to the point of verbal tichood as a way of defanging every assertory element in the sentence, from single words to whole phrases. Both of these discourse strategies originate in strictly female speech and have now invaded that of young males. As remarked upon in earlier posts, this detail of language use in contemporary American English is further evidence of the fact that a person’s sex is less and less determinative of their role and their behavior in the culture than is class.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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