About Me

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Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ask Me No Questions

Thanks to my sister Mary (see above photo), I have excellent grammar and spelling skills. When I was younger, she would correct my speech if I was using incorrect grammar or lapsed into using "y'know" or "like" as fillers when I was speaking. She would say, "No, I DON'T 'know' - enlighten me", or "'Like' WHAT?". Eventually, she made me more aware of my speech patterns and I was more careful when I spoke or wrote. This has been beneficial to me, especially when I was working for the State of Alaska and had to write reports or give presentations. So, thanks, Mary!

One of the recent and most annoying speech habits that I have observed over the last few years is the tendency for people (especially young women) to use an interrogative at the end of their sentences, that is, ending their sentences with a question mark. I went to a lecture and slide show the other evening given by an accomplished and extremely talented young woman here in town. At the beginning of her talk, she began using this speech pattern, which sounded something like this: "My name is Amy? (Not her real name). I have been doing (her particular skill) since I was about 10 years old? I was given the opportunity to study at (the school where she learned more about the skill)?" By the way, the reason I am being so circumspect about the young woman is because she is wonderful at what she does and it is a small town.

My point is that this young woman had absolutely no reason to be unsure of herself or to lack confidence in her abilities. But the way she expressed herself made it seem as if she didn't believe in herself.

I have seen this tendency in young women increase in recent years. What makes so many young women speak like this? Are they really that unsure? Do they feel they need permission to make a simple declarative sentence? What were all those years of struggle in the feminist movement for, if young women don't feel confident enough to speak as if they mean what they say, instead of posing everything as a question?

I managed to beat (not literally, of course) this habit out of my daughter in her teenage years when she would speak like this by responding, "I don't know." She'd say, "What?" and I'd reply, "I don't know the answer to your question. You said: 'I went to the movie?' I don't know, did you?" Eventually, she would get so irritated when I responded like this that she stopped using the questioning tone. I am now seeing this speech pattern in a little girl that I'm close to, and, since I am not her mother (or her aunt), I hesitate to employ the same method. But it bothers me to hear it, especially because she is smart, athletic, talented, funny and beautiful, with no reason whatsoever to have any doubt in her abilities.

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but I hope that all of us, especially young women and girls, will know that it's perfectly all right to make a statement of fact without asking a question first.

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