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Valleyspeak or valspeak is an American sociolect, originally of the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. It is associated with young, upper-middle-class white women called Valley girls, although elements of it have spread to other demographics, including men called "Val dudes".[1] This sociolect became an international fad for a certain period in the 1980s and 1990s, with a peak period from around 1981 to 1985. Many phrases and elements of Valleyspeak, along with surfer slang and skateboarding slang, have become stable elements of the California English dialect lexicon, and in some cases wider American English such as the widespread use of "like" as a discourse marker.

Language ideologyEdit

Due to its place at the center of the entertainment industry, California is one of the main sources worldwide for new cultural and youth trends, including those of language. This lends itself to explicit language ideologies about dialects in the area as they receive more scrutiny than dialects in other nearby regions. Linguistic characteristics of "valley girl" or "California" speak are often thought to be "silly" and "superficial" and seen as a sign of low intelligence. Speakers are also often perceived as "materialistic" and "air-headed". The use of "like" or the quotative phrase "be like" are often ideologically linked to California and valley speak despite the now widespread use of the terms among youth, which results to them also receiving the "superficial" cast. In the national understanding, California speech is thought to be a product of the combination of valley girl and surfer dude speech, and "is associated with good English, but never proper".[2]

A study on regional language ideologies done in California in 2007 found that, despite its prevalence and association with California in past decades, Californians themselves do not consider "valley girls" to be an overly prevalent social or linguistic group within the state. State residents listed factors such as immigrant populations and North-South regional slang as more relevant than valley speak within the state.[3]

Many researchers, such as Amanda Ritchart, a graduate student who had studied linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, has analyzed 23-year olds (college age students) of many socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, specifically in the Southern California region. Regarding gender and Valleyspeak, especially from research that has been done, "Women used uptalk more frequently than men did. Their pitch rose higher overall, and the rise began much later in the phrase." According to the article "What's Up With Upspeak?",[4] when women use valleyspeak, it is assumed that they have "inferior speech" patterns. For men, the high rise of intonation usually "plateaud" at certain points, especially in situations where they don’t want to be interrupted.[5]

Features and qualifiersEdit

The sound of Valleyspeak has these main habits: nasal sound; a duck quack sound; fast-paced run-on sentences; breathiness; uptalk, or the sound of a question; and vocal fry.

  • Vocal fry is usually spoken by young adult women in the United States who speak American English. This speech pattern can be characterized by "low, creaky vibrations" or a "guttural vibration". Researchers have studied two qualities of this speech pattern, such as the jitter (variation in pitch) and shimmer (variation in volume). When women tend to speak with these mannerisms, they are perceived as less competent, less hirable, less trustworthy, or less educated. Prominent examples are Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears.[6]
  • High rising terminal (also called "up speak" or "uptalk") is a defining feature of Valleyspeak. Statements have a rising intonation, causing declarative language to appear interrogative to listeners unfamiliar with the dialect. Research on uptalk has found a number of pragmatic uses, including confirming that the interlocutor follows what is being said and indicating that the speaker has more to say and so their conversation partner should not interrupt them (also called "floor holding").[7] Another use is as a confirmation statement of general agreement, such as "I know, right?" or simply "right?". The difference between the intonation of a question, confirmation statements, and floor holding is determined by the extent of the rise and its location within the phrase.[8] The high rising terminal feature is most commonly used by women, but it has been adopted by speakers beyond the traditional users of Valleyspeak, including men[1][9] and New Zealanders.[10]
  • "Like" as a discourse marker. "Like" is used as a filler word, similar to "um" or "er", as in, "I'm, like, about to totally blow chunks." It does not add content to the sentence, instead allowing time for the speaker to formulate what they will say next. The word is always unstressed when used in this way. This discourse marker is usually used to introduce quoted speech. For example, a person can start a conversation with stating, "So, um, I'm like "Where did he go? and she was um, like, 'I don't know, I haven't seen him.'[11]
  • "To be like" as a colloquial quotative. "Like" (always unstressed) is used to indicate that what follows is not necessarily an exact quotation of what was said, but captures the meaning and intention of the quoted speech. As an example, in "And I was like, 'don't ever speak to my boyfriend again'", the speaker is indicating that they may or may not have literally said those words, but they conveyed that idea. "Be like" can introduce both a monologue or direct speech, allowing a speaker to express an attitude, reaction, or thought, or to use the phrase to signal quotation.[12]
  • "To be all" or "to be all like" are used in the same manner as "to be like".
  • "Whatever." or "As if.", literally used to express any disbelief.
  • "Totally" meaning "quite" or "very", as in "I was like, totally surprised that he actually showed up to the party."
  • "Seriously" is a frequent interjection of approval, or an inquiry of veracity.
  • "Omigod this is happening..." Part of the chorus of the opening song "Omigod You Guys" from the Legally Blonde: The Musical[13][14]

In popular cultureEdit

Valspeak and the term "Valley Girl" were given a wider circulation with the release of a hit 1982 single by Frank Zappa titled "Valley Girl", on which his fourteen-year-old daughter Moon Zappa delivered a monologue in "Valleyspeak" behind the music. This song popularized phrases such as "grody to the max" and "gag me with a spoon". It also popularized the use of the term "like" as a discourse marker, though it did not originate in Valleyspeak.[2]

An early appearance of Valleyspeak and the Valley Girl stereotype was through the character of Jennifer DiNuccio, played by Tracy Nelson in the 1982–1983 sitcom Square Pegs. According to an interview with Nelson included on the 2008 DVD release of the series, she developed the character's Valleyspeak and personality prior to the Zappa recording becoming popular.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Hogenboom, Melissa (2013-12-06). "More men speaking in girls' 'dialect', study shows". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
  2. ^ a b Nycum, Reilly (May 2018). "In Defense of Valley Girl English". The Compass. 1: 23–29.
  3. ^ Bucholtz, M.; Bermudez, N.; Fung, V.; Edwards, L.; Vargas, R. (2007). "Hella Nor Cal or Totally So Cal?: The Perceptual Dialectology of California" (PDF). Journal of English Linguistics. 35 (4): 325–352. doi:10.1177/0075424207307780.
  4. ^ "What's Up With Upspeak?". Berkeley Social Science. 2015-09-21. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  5. ^ "Is Valley Girl Speak, Like, on the Rise?". National Geographic News. 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  6. ^ Wolf, Naomi (24 July 2015). "Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  7. ^ Hoffman, Jan (2013-12-23). "Overturning the Myth of Valley Girl Speak". Well. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
  8. ^ Ritchart, A. and Arvaniti, A., 2013. Do we all speak like valley girls? Uptalk in Southern Californian English. ASA Lay Language Papers. from
  9. ^ "Is Valley Girl Speak, Like, on the Rise?". 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
  10. ^ "Valley Girl Talk". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
  11. ^ Ploschnitzki, Patrick. "" 'Valley girl' - A dialect, its stereotypes and the reality"" – via Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Blyth, C., Recktenwald, S., & Wang, J. (1990). I'm like, "Say What?!": A New Quotative in American Oral Narrative. American Speech, 65(3), 215-227. doi:10.2307/455910
  13. ^ Editor, Managing (2018-10-05). "What Does the L.A. Valley Girl Stereotype Say About Language and Power?". LA Social Science. Retrieved 2019-02-22.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Songfacts. "Omigod You Guys by Cast of Legally Blonde - Songfacts". Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  15. ^ "Weemawee Yearbook Memories: Tracy Nelson and Claudette Wells", a featurette on the DVD release Square Pegs: The Like, Totally Complete Series ... Totally (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008).

External linksEdit