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Archive for March 7th, 2012

I read an article this week by an author defending “upspeak”, which is a tendency (often shown by young women) to end a declarative sentence with rising intonation.  She notes that women are more likely according to David Crystal to be early adopters of linguistic innovation, and that upspeak can be used authoritatively (she cites a study by linguist Cynthia McLemore of sorority members that I would not have cited).

Linguistic innovation does not lead to success in the majority of workplaces.  Usually conformity increases in-group status while being different is penalized.  Maybe if I worked in a non-traditional industry (like as a tattoo artist? or an interpretive dancer?) it wouldn’t matter whether I sound “professional,” but in reality there are many linguistic tricks I’m having to master to get ahead.

These include avoidong upspeak, apologizing less and not talking too much when I’m nervous.  (Sometimes you just need to “land the plane.”  And then stop talking.)  People who end sentences with a declarative tone, are unapologetic, and are not afraid of silence are viewed as authoritative.  These are arbitrary rules, and I think it’s bigoted for people to make judgements about the intelligence of a speaker because of their accent or speech habits.  However, I spent a lot of money learning fancy terminology for linguistic phenomena so that I can feel guilty in an existential sense for selling out when it comes to respecting linguistic diversity.

At work this week it came to my boss’s attention that some emails had not been sent out that should have been sent out.  Both my boss and I manage this project jointly, so when my boss told me in a stern way that these emails should have gone out sooner, I apologized and noted that I should have remembered this.  Then I paused because I expected her to apologize back.  (No, I’m sorry too.  I don’t know why I forgot that part of the contract…)  She said nothing, which irked me because it was every bit as much her fault as mine.  When I recounted this episode to my friend, she scolded me for apologizing because it made me sound weak.  I believe that’s why my boss didn’t apologize, but I also think I should take responsibility when I manage a project (as should my boss).  I don’t think that shows weakness – I think it actually protects the people who work below me.  The buck stops here, etc.  My friend was right when it comes to getting ahead, but following that stupid rule of not wanting to look sorry toasts me.  Hopefully I’ll be independently wealthy and able to quit any day now.  In the meantime I’ll be apologizing less.

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