High rising terminal
The high rising terminal (HRT), also known as upspeak, uptalk, rising inflection, or high rising intonation (HRI), is a feature of some accents of English where declarative sentences are uttered with rising-pitch intonation.
Empirically, one report proposes that HRT in American English and Australian English is marked by a high tone (high pitch or high fundamental frequency) beginning on the final accented syllable near the end of the statement (the terminal), and continuing to increase in frequency (up to 40%) to the end of the intonational phrase. New research suggests that the actual rise can occur one or more syllables after the last accented syllable of the phrase, and its range is much more variable than previously thought.
The origins of HRT remain uncertain. Geographically, anecdotal evidence places the conception of the American English variety on the West Coast – anywhere from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest.
It is unclear whether the American English varieties and the Oceanic varieties had any influence on each other regarding the spread of HRT.
In the United States, the phenomenon of HRT may be fairly recent but is an increasingly common characteristic of speech especially among younger speakers. However, serious scientific/linguistic inquiry on this topic has a much more extensive history in linguistic journals from Australia, New Zealand, and Britain where HRT seems to have been noted as early as World War II.
It has been noted in speech heard in areas of Canada, in Cape Town, the Falkland Islands, and in the United States where it is often associated with a particular sociolect that originated among affluent teenage girls in Southern California (see Valleyspeak and Valley girl). Elsewhere in the United States, this intonation is characteristic of the speech heard in those parts of rural North Dakota and Minnesota that through migration have come under the influence of the Norwegian language.
Although it is ridiculed in Britain as "Australian question intonation" (AQI) and blamed on the popularity of Australian soap operas among teenagers, HRT is also a feature of several UK dialects, especially in mid-Ulster and Belfast English.
A 1986 report stated that in Sydney, it is used more than twice as often by young generations as by older ones, and particularly by women. It has been suggested that the HRT has a facilitative function in conversation (i.e., it encourages the addressee to participate in the conversation), and such functions are more often used by women. It also subtly indicates that the speaker is "not finished yet", thus perhaps discouraging interruption. Its use is also suggestive of seeking assurance from the listener that they are aware of what the speaker is referring to.
Facts and misconceptions
Although several personalities in the popular media in Australia, Britain, and the United States have negatively portrayed the usage of HRT, claiming that its use is exhibiting a speaker's insecurities about the statement, more recent evidence shows that leaders of the peer group are more likely to use HRT in their declaratives than the junior members of the particular peer group. According to University of Pennsylvania phonologist Mark Liberman, George W. Bush began to use HRT extensively in his speeches as his presidency continued. Linguist Robin Lakoff drew attention to the pattern in her book Language and Women's Place, which argued that women were socialized to talk in ways that lacked power, authority, and confidence. Rising intonation on declarative sentences was one of the features Lakoff included in her description of "women's language," a gendered speech style which in her view both reflected and reproduced its users' subordinate social status.
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- Mark Liberman, "Uptalk uptick?". Language Log, 15 December 2005.
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