SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 4 Contents Letters to the Editor

Down With UptalkBut Not Tha̰t Do̰wn

Creaky Cranky Uppity Editor Bu᷄tch McBa̰sta̰rd

Ah... the stupidity naïveté innocence of youth! Ahh... To be a young, brainless clueless idealistic proto-linguist again! Ahhh... to be full of vim and verve and foolish hokum guileless optimism wholesome idealsspoon-fed by duplicitous ignorant unworldly professors lecturers TAs. Ideas like world peace, universal grammar, and the descriptivist notion that all communication systems are created equal in the eyes of Chomsky Cthulhu linguists.

Thirty-two years, nine months, and twelve days later, though, you find yourself old and tired and cranky, working a dead-end editorial job for a second-and-a-half-rate linguistics journal, and it hits youright between the eyes like last week’s halibutit’s all just bunk. Bunk. Some types of communication do, in fact, suck, and they need to just go ahead and die.

So, yeah, I’ll say it: We gave uptalk and vocal fry a real shotmaybe not an entirely fair shot, but a real shot, nonethelessbut now it’s time to call it quits.

Juergen Wastl and Danielle Feger, 2014, “VM408 folio86v ‘The Rosette Map’: Elements of a Mappa mundi and a map of the Elements”

Chiasmus of the Month
March 2023

First, let’s talk about upta᷄lk? I’m tired of thinking?, “Are you asking me or telling me?”? I am annoyed?, but that’s not the only problem? If this keeps up(talking)?, no one is going to know who is asking and who is telling? We will have to join the French?, in Question­particle­having­land? (Though to be fair? that sounds like a place in Germany?) It’s a shame?, n’est-ce pas??

And thḛn there’s the crḛa̰ky monstro̰sity of vo̰ca̰l fry̰. Lo̰o̰k, Sho̰hrḛh A̰ghda̰shlo̰o̰ is o̰bviously a go̰dda̰m ḭnterna̰tional trḛa̰sure, but we do̰n’t nḛḛd ḛvery tḛn-yḛa̰r-o̰ld in Ca̰lifo̰rnia to so̰ṵnd lḭke hḛr! And the yo̰ṵng wo̰mḛn at wo̰rk who̰se vo̰ca̰ls are so̰ fry̰ that thḛy glḭtch the a̰ṵdio̰ on ḛvery sḭngle Zo̰o̰m ca̰llI’m no̰t going ba̰ck into the o̰ffice jṵst beca̰ṵse thḛy ca̰n’t lḛa̰rn ho̰w to ta̰lk lḭke a no̰rma̰l hṵma̰n bḛing o̰ver the ḭnternḛt!

So what do we do about these crimes against phonetics? Personal experience with the SpecGram interns has made it clear to me that an alternate road to Question­particle­having­land is likely paved with brutal crackdowns. All of the interns became so afraid of getting a (completely morally justified) flogging that they avoided even the vague impression of uptalk, unexpectedly blurring the distinction between asking and telling from the other direction.

Shame may, in theory, be effective, as other (often underserving) speech patterns have a history of being suppressed through public shaming. On the plus side, this may have the added bonus side effect of exposing the shamelessthough, now that I think about it, they aren’t usually that hard to pick out. On the negative side, do linguists have anywhere near the social cachet needed to effectively shame anyone with more social status than, say, an anthropologist?

I could (once againdon’t ask) divert a small fraction of the Senior Editorial Annual Coffee Budget, and use the copious funds thus obtained to hire the services of the Γραμματο-Χαοτικον. However, the situation already smells vaguely of their sulphurous residue, and despite their many flaws, they fairly scrupulously avoid double-dealing and taking conflicting contracts. Plus, I don’t particularly want to deal with my cu᷄rrent anno᷄yances for ano̰ther twḛnty yḛa̰rs while the ΓΧ implement their chicanery. I could remove the middle men and attempt to directly hire my own influencers to implement a Public Shaming Protocolbut I don’t want to sully myself like that! I shudder to think! I may lack morals, ethics, scruples, and principlesbut I still have some standards!

Ugh. You know what, maybe descriptivism really is better than prescriptivism becauseand this is another wisdom nugget that life will beat you over the head with through the yearsit’s a lot less work. I guess it might be easier? to just grimace? at the unintentionally implied questions? Or make the cro̰a̰kers rḛ-cro̰a̰k until they find a fundamental frequency that’s compatible with the Interweb™ and the teeny tiny tinny speakers on this crappy laptop My Beloved Employer makes me use.

Who knows? Maybe the annoyingnesses will eventually wrap around and constructively interfere to produce something entirely amusing! Perhaps one day both uptalk and vocal fry could become nearly mandatory sociolinguistic markersor better yet, grammaticalized... unlikely, I know, but a boy can dreamleading to their simultaneous heavy and undeniable presence in a single (cursed) utterance.

In fact, it’s likely already happenedhopefully without the speaker involved spraining anything too vitalso I’m going to preëmptively name the phenomenon “ṵpcro̰᷄a̰k”. And, yeah, you have to both spell it and pronounce it with all those diacritics in full forceor else I’ll rename it to the auto-eponym “McBastardization”, and nobody wants that.

Well, like the comfort that comes from crass crepitation, I feel much better (and less bloated) after venting!

Vive l’ṵpcro̰᷄a̰k!
(And have a go̰o̰d da̰y?)

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 4 Contents