Saturday, September 09, 2006

September 9: Val Speak Day

Today is the anniversary of California's admission as the 31st state of the Union. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused its population to explode, and in 1849 settlers applied for admission to the Union after drafting a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Because making California a state would upset the balance of free and slave states, statehood was delayed until September 9, 1850, when the Compromise of 1850 opened the door for California statehood.

In addition to a state constitution, Californians adopted a state seal in 1849 with the motto "Eureka," (The Greek word for "I Have Found It.") an appropriate interjection for a state whose reputation was made on gold strikes (1).

Today many things make California distinctive and influencial: the influence of Silicon Valley and Hollywood to name two huge influences on the culture of American and the world. Another influence comes under the category of language. Val Speak, the speech pattern of the California "Valley Girl" has captured the imagination of linguists and lexicographers and has crept into the lingo of people who speak English all over the world.

In 1982, Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of Frank Zappa, recorded the hit "Valley Girl" with lyrics that mock frenetic patter that waf first used by California surfers and gradually moved inland to the California's suburban shopping malls:

So like I go into this like salon place, y'know
And I wanted like to get my toenails done
And the lady like goes, oh my god, your toenails
Are like so grody
It was like really embarrassing
She's like oh my god, like bag those toenails
I'm like sure...
She goes, uh, I don't know if I can handle this, y'know...
I was like really embarrassed... (2)

Certainly some of the lyrics of Valley Girl are a exaggerated for effect and humor, but there is no denying the fact that Val Speak is having an impact on American English, especially among people below the age of forty.

The website for the recent PBS series Do You Speak American reports that one interesting target for linguists is the speech of young white Californians, particularly their use of the discourse marker "I'm like." Known as a quotative, "like" is used to report quoted speech, such as: He was like, "Where do you wanna go?" Unlike the word "said," "like" allows the speaker to paraphrase what was stated instead of making a literal, exact rendering.

"Like" is the offspring of an earlier quotative "goes" that appeared in the 1940s: He goes, "Do you know the make and model of your phone?"

The like quotative was once the exclusive jargon of young Californians, but in the short span of the last twenty-five years it has so rapidly spread throughout American and beyond that sociolinguist William Labov has called it a linguistic "tsunami." But whether or not it is here to stay is uncertain; just as "like" replaced "goes," it appears that the word "all" may replace "like" as the hip quotative, used in sentences like this: Then, after a while, I was all, “See you later, good luck!” (3).

Today's Challenge: Like, Gag Me With Youth Speak
The words below are from the "Track That Word!" section of the Do You Speak American website under the category of Teen/Youth words and expressions. See if you can match up each of the ten words/expressions below with its correct definition.



Chop it up








1. Major preoccupation, concern, obsession
2. Worrying.
3. To Steal
4. Talking with friends with great interest, enthusiasm
5. Strong, solid, loyal
6. Twenty, pertaining to twenty dollars
7. Old, wrecked automobile
8. Confusion
9. Shoes
10. Everything is going well (4).

Quote of the Day: Nothing is wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure. --Ross MacDonald

Answers. 1. Drama 2. Buggin' 3. Chalk 4. Chop it up 5. Firme 6. Dubs 7. Hooptie 8. Jargon
9. Kicks 10. Jake

1 -

2 -

3 - Singler, John. "Like, Quote Me." Do You Speak American?

4. Track That Word - Do You Speak American?

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