Women

02.19.14

The Truth Behind ‘Sexy Baby Voice’

Why middle-school girls sometimes ‘upspeak.’

We've all heard it—gabbed at the mall, parodied in sitcom comedies, spoken from our own teenage daughters and friends. A new piece in The Atlantic calls this linguistic trend "upspeak,” and it’s commonly practiced by young women and features a high-pitched, "cutesy baby" tone and interrogative inflection. (I call it teen girl drawl.) Others have also named it "sexy baby voice"(SBV) arguing that the tonal inflection makes the speaker sound "well, like" a prepubescent sex toy. But the root cause might be deeper than you think: psychotherapist Katie Hurley believes "vocal regression" is a distressed call for help or way to cope with anxiety. So after teacher Jessica Lahey overhead many of her young female students make “smart and insightful points with tentative, childish voices” she felt compelled to intervene and help steer these girls to have proper public speaking skills. Now Lahey, who wrote The Atlantic story, tells her students to stand straight, with their chests out, shoulders back, and use a deep tone to communicate with authority. Regardless, teen girl drawl might be annoying to most people, but perhaps our biggest takeaway should be to focus on what girls are saying instead of making them sound “well, like” everyone else.