What Happened To The Valley Girl Accent?

The 1980s left us with plenty of enduring cultural touchstones, including an entire subculture frozen in time — the Valley girl. As The Sundial notes, the stereotype was defined by tween and teen girls from Southern California's affluent San Fernando Valley. Often depicted as materialistic, air-headed, and sometimes snarky,  Valley girls had their own style of dress and makeup, complete with their own color palette of bright pastels.

The subculture was largely met with derision. Perhaps most famously, Frank Zappa's daughter, Moon Unit, herself a teen girl at the time, recorded and released the song "Valley Girl" (available via YouTube), a polemic against the lifestyle that leaned heavily into the subgenre's accent, complete with its unique cadence and vowel sounds, as the College of William and Mary explains.

That was 40 years ago. Those Valley girls are now adult women, and the San Fernando Valley is still a thing, presumably populated with its share of girls and young women in the 10-21 age range. So did the Valley Girl accent itself get swept up into the dustbin of pop culture history?

Linguists are taking it more seriously now

The Valley Girl accent, according to The Compass, had two defining characteristics: its vowel sounds (produced in a different place in the mouth than the standard General American accent), and its use of "uptalk," which linguists define as ending a sentence, or a clause, with a "hesitant, rising quaver," as the College of William and Mary describes it.

Neither of those things ever went away. As PBS explains, vowel shifting, as it's called, isn't unique to Southern California accents, and indeed, it's seen in multiple California accents.

As for the so-called "uptalk," that's still a thing, too. What's more, it's not limited to Southern California (or even the United States for that matter), nor to females. As BBC News reports, the Acoustical Society of America conducted an experiment and concluded that English-speaking men and women, from all over the world, sometimes spoke in "uptalk." Further, the study noted that the speech pattern is rising among men.

What did go away — mostly — was the whole Valley girl subculture on which the accent was pinned (although it's experiencing somewhat of a revival, according to The Sundial, and the whole VSCO Girl craze of 2019-2021 was like the whole thing's TikTok Generation granddaughter). That's just how it goes with popular culture; no one is playing with Teddy Ruxpin anymore or saying "23 Skidoo!" Similarly, no one is saying "gag me with a spoon" while shopping at the mall (especially since malls are going the way of the Model T).