Uptalking?

I noticed this phenomenon a few years before retirement and thought at the time how strange it sounded. Since then, and it’s been a number of years, the style, if you want to call it that, has spread all over into many areas of conversation. I thought at first that it was, for whatever reason, related to the education field since that was the only place I heard it, but not so.

I just watched a video by a speech coach who demonstrated “uptalking” and explained how problematic it was, some of the reasons for it, and how to make corrections. I happened on to the term recently and didn’t know the practice had been identified and labeled. Unless you are familiar with the term and are way ahead of me, you’re no doubt wondering what in the world I’m talking about.

It is very simple. “Uptalking” is the rising voice/pitch inflection at the end of a statement that sounds like one is asking a question. Try reading this paragraph and imagine a question mark at the end of every sentence. Then read it aloud with the question inflection and you have “uptalk.” If you have never been puzzled by this quirk, then beware; you may be one of “them.” They say it originated with the “Valley Girls,” and is primarily a young persons affliction, but I’ve heard folks across the age spectrum talk that way so anyone can pick it up. In fact I just watched a news program of note where a guest “uptalked” in her commentary. That did surprise me since it is not as common in professional broadcasts.

It is also a topic in Great Britain as well, being called “high rising terminal.” The claim is that Australians and New Zealanders are the worst offenders and that it is real prevalent in Norwegian speech. While it is attributed in the U.S. to “Valley Girl” talk, which makes California the culprit, one person stated that Minnesotans, because of their large Scandinavian influence, were “uptalking” long before California started. Surely there is not any pride in being first with this abnormality.

No one seems ready to defend “uptalking,” and in fact commentary is decidedly negative. The aforementioned speech coach was giving advice on how to overcome the habit for the benefit of personal development. It is thought, and correctly I believe, that “uptalk” comes across as weak, uncertain, insecure and generally not becoming of professionals. The coach stated emphatically that you would not hear “uptalk” in an executive boardroom. When one makes a statement, it is supposed to be taken seriously and believed to be accurate. However, if the same statement is rendered in “uptalk” it is perceived that the speaker is unsure of the validity of its content, and personally diffident.

I need to mention one setting where “uptalk” may have some validity. I didn’t run across this in any of my research, but experienced it in counseling situations where confrontation risked the unraveling of progress. When a confrontational moment happens it is potentially dangerous emotionally and maybe at times physically. When serious comments or statements are made with an authoritative or challenging tone, people can be activated or offended. However, when the same statements are made, in the same situation with an “uptalk” tone, it tends to temper emotions and come across as conciliatory and non-threatening. Except for those who have consciously used “uptalk” in dealing with certain people, this explanation probably is not real clear.

For years I wanted to ask those who used “uptalk” if they realized how it came across because I felt the same as most do about it’s effect. But, I figured it was none of my business how others spoke and let it pass. However, since I recently found a name for it and all of the data about it that I never knew existed, I thought I’d add my comments in hopes that some people, even ones whom I know, might see this and quit sounding apologetic all the time and sort of “girly.” No offense to you ladies, but it was the “Valley Girls” you know.

My favorite “uptalk” title is the article by Diane DiResta, “Does uptalk make you want to upchuck?” Amen, I say! Actually that may be a little extreme but it’s funny. However, there is a general consensus, again, that it comes across as weak, ineffectual, tentative, lacking confidence, unconvincing and really not very professional. Besides that, it makes me want to “uptalk” every sentence back just to ridicule, so knock it off.  Real friends don’t let friends “uptalk.” I’m doing my part, you do yours?

 

 

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