linguistics question
May 2, 2009 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Is there a word for the accent or vocalization style where an adult woman talks like she is either pre-pubescent child or some sort of species mix of human and feline?

Jennifer Tilly talks like this. Ted Baxter's girlfriend Georgette on the Mary Tyler Moore show talks like this. Maybe it is perfectly natural to some women but it sounds like an artifice, like they are doing feminity display and it's overkilled. My google fu is failing me. Googling on Jennifer Tilly meow reveals that she was once in a movie called "The Cats Meow" which seems a little bit sick
posted by bukvich to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Little Girl Voice"
posted by OmieWise at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2009

It's just a person with a uniquely annoying voice. There's no word here. No phenomenon.
posted by xmutex at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2009

I know one woman with that voice as a result of medication she takes. I assumed other woman have it as part of the spectrum of the human vocal range, just as some men have incredibly deep voices.
posted by saucysault at 1:29 PM on May 2, 2009

Some women just have high, piping voices. If they're a bit twittery or chirpy in their chat, to add into the mix, they sound like little girls. All the time. I had a girlfriend like that. Got a nice sock in the arm for referring to her as "the Kindergarten Lolita of Phone Sex."
posted by adipocere at 1:35 PM on May 2, 2009

i don't agree with it as a rule, but certainly an observation worth nothing - dr drew thinks that the little girl voice is a sign of childhood sexual trauma

some girls have it all the time, much like jennifer tilly. some girls go in an out of it, like anna nicole smith.
posted by nadawi at 1:39 PM on May 2, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed "I find it annoying" doesn't really answer the question
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:42 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: Baby talk, motherese, parentese, mommy talk, caretaker speech, infant-directed talk (IDT), or child-directed speech (CDS) is a nonstandard form of speech used by adults in talking to toddlers and infants. It is usually delivered with a "cooing" pattern of intonation different from that of normal adult speech: high in pitch, with many glissando variations that are more pronounced than those of normal speech. Baby talk is also characterized by the shortening and simplifying of words.

posted by KokuRyu at 1:42 PM on May 2, 2009

It might annoy you, xmutex, but Jennifer Tilley can talk to me in that Jennifer Tilley voice just as much as she wants to, thank you very much.

CDS was what I came in here to suggest, though, when it's affected.
posted by rokusan at 2:10 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: CDS? Credit default swaps?! :)

FWIW, she doesn't always do this. Compare here where she sounds child-like, with here when she doesn't.

I think she'd call it "acting."
posted by Houstonian at 2:27 PM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think it'd be odd to call it "child-directed speech" when it isn't actually child-directed (or child-surrogate-directed, like when talking to pets). Even though it is the same or similar speech style.

I'd call it "baby talk", which is just the common name for child-directed speech I suppose, but really, I think this kind of speech style is intended to imitate a child's speech or an anthropomorphized animal's speech, not to imitate the way people talk to children. Adjectives like "twee" and "precious" and "squeaky balloon animals" come to mind but they aren't really answers to your question either.
posted by hattifattener at 2:45 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: When describing Georgia Engel and Didi Conn in an article, I referred to their speaking style as "breathy and infantilized."
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:53 PM on May 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

i feel that baby talk is different from what is being described here. baby talk is punctuated by a lot of d's instead of t's and the cooing and the talking in the first person. it's obviously an act, something done for attention or to be "cute" or whatever those girls think they're doing.

what's being described here, i think, is when adult women sound like they're 12, like victoria jackson or (again) jennifer tilly. it's like their bodies grew up around a 7th grade voice.
posted by nadawi at 3:07 PM on May 2, 2009

It could be a vocal mannerism. What you're describing is more common among women in Japan, where it seems to be cultural. Don't know if there's a specific name for it, though.
posted by Wyrmspace at 3:15 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: I've never heard linguists use a specific term for "speaking in an infantile register", but if pressed I'd co-opt the biological term "neoteny" which would mean that most people wouldn't know what I meant. The literature seems to prefer "babytalk" (e.g. "Babytalk as a communication of intimate attachment").

In my experience as an amateur linguist, the most manipulative use of babytalk seems to be by women who have found that it solicits a degree of response that they find rewarding. These women may not always be conscious that they've been operantly conditioned by the world to use that register. In my experience as a professional parent, I know that I had to discourage the hints of neotenous speech by my daughter in her pre-adolescence.

As it straddles the fence between "effective manipulation via supernormal stimulus" and "grating to the ear and sensibilities" I'm a bit surprised we don't hear more of it.
posted by fydfyd at 3:54 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would call it "a Betty Boop voice".

No doubt there are vaudevillian antecedents... but most people would understand this reference.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:58 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: I've heard "Marilyn Monroe voice". According to George Cukor, she invented this voice because her Norma Jean Baker voice was "unattractive", but there are also suggestions it was a way of covering for a stuttering problem.

The word most often associated is "breathy" or "whispery".

By the way, I think the Betty Boop voice is related, but is most often described as "squeaky". Also, the Boop character was supposedly crafted from Brooklyn-born and -accented Clara Bow, and allegedly in a lawsuit from another New York actress, Helen Kane -- and was played by Bronx-born Mae Questel. I don't doubt that there is a character here, but to some extent the voice is just a widely-spoken New York accent that persists today.
posted by dhartung at 12:15 AM on May 3, 2009

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