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 variants of English where declarative sentence clauses end with a rising-pitch intonation, until the end of the sentence where a falling-pitch is applied.
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.
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 and 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). It was observed in Mississippi in 1963 (see Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes "Twirling at Ole Miss"). Elsewhere in the United States, this tonal pattern is characteristic of the speech heard in parts of the rural Upper Midwest that have come under the influence of Norwegian phonology through Norwegian migration to Minnesota and North Dakota.
Although it is characterized 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 Irish 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 also subtly indicates that the speaker is "not finished yet", thus perhaps discouraging interruption.
Media in Australia, Britain, and the United States have negatively portrayed the usage of HRT, claiming that its use exhibits a speaker's insecurities about the statement and undermines effective speaking. Time reports that it hampers job interviews.
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. Since the rising-pitch is mostly applied to clauses before the end of the sentence, it serves as a type of notice that the sentence remains 'in-progress' and thus to prevent interruption.
Implications for gender
Because HRT has been popularized as "Valley Girl Speak", it has acquired an almost exclusively feminine gender connotation. Studies confirm that more women use HRT than men. Linguist Thomas J. Linneman contends, "The more successful a man is, the less likely he is to use HRT; the more successful a woman is, the more likely she is to use uptalk". Though women appear to use HRT more often than men, the differences in frequency are not significant enough to brand HRT as an exclusively female speech pattern. Susan Miller, a vocal coach in Washington D.C., insists that she receives both male and female clients with equal frequency—not because either gender is concerned that they sound too feminine, but that they sound too young. Susan Sankin, a New York State licensed speech pathologist, affirms that she has "now noticed in my practice that it is a conversational style that extends equally across gender, age, and socioeconomic levels. It seems that nobody is immune to this trend that has become as contagious as the common cold". Findings have thus been inconclusive regarding HRT as a gendered speech pattern, though the (partial) evidence that HRT is more common among women is consistent with the third principle of the gender paradox identified by sociolinguist William Labov, namely that "in linguistic change from below, women use higher frequencies of innovative forms more than men do". Viewing HRT as "change from below" also explains why it appears to be more common among young speakers.
Despite inconclusive research, there appears to be merit to the claim that gendered connotations of HRT give rise to difficulties in the feminist sphere. Anne Charity Hudley, a linguist at the College of William & Mary, suggests, "When certain linguistic traits are tied to women ... they often will be assigned a negative attribute without any actual evidence". Negative associations with the speech pattern, in combination with gendered expectations, have contributed to an implication that for female speakers to be viewed as authoritative, they ought to sound more like men than women. These implications are perpetuated by various media, including the coverage of politics. Female U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, has voiced her concern that traditionally feminine speech patterns do not allow a female speaker to be taken seriously. "To meet those standards," she says, "you have to speak less like a young girl and more like a young, aspiring professional...it's a choice every young woman is going to have to make about how she wants to be and how she wants to be received". Feminist objections to this may take issue with the perhaps arbitrary distinction Gillibrand makes between a "young girl" and "a young, aspiring professional". Further, the choice young women purportedly must make about how she wants to be received does not appear to be a choice young men must also make—at least not one as widely urged by authoritative figures. Lydia Dallet of Business Insider affirms this concern.
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- From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices? NPR, July 23, 2015
- Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice by Naomi Woofe, July 24, 2015
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- 3 speech habits that are worse than vocal fry in job interviews Time, June 4, 2013
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- Mark Liberman, "Uptalk uptick?". Language Log, 15 December 2005.
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- Guardian article on uptalk
- "Uptalk Is Not HRT" Mark Liberman's Language Log (March 28, 2006)
- Christopher Hitchens defines Uptalk in Vanity Fair.
- Uptalk examples