Is girl talk really just for girls? Not according to many sociolinguists. These culture-analyzers say that new features of a language, from the sound of "house" to the use of "so," often start with women.
A study of Canadians tracked the words "just," "like" and "so"—as in "I'm just, like, so there, you know?"—in teenage speech. Researcher Sali Tagliamonte of York University in Toronto found that "like" drops in popularity as teens age, but "so" and "just" stay in vogue. These two words, she concludes, are more than Valley Girl fads and seem fully entrenched in English.
Other studies have suggested that women are always at the linguistic cutting edge. Women brought new pronunciations to the French Alps, Philadelphia and Detroit—and even developed a New York accent a generation ahead of men.
Why are women ahead of the curve? They tend to communicate more cooperatively than men, some researchers say, and thus may pick up others' habits more quickly. Women, on average, also have stronger verbal skills than men. Some experts say women are more attuned to language and its quirks, given their primary role in caring for children and teaching them to speak. Men lag behind, perhaps because they are reluctant to copy women.