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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Study: ‘Uptalk’ Spreads From Valley Girls To Young Men

Upspeak was on display in the 1995 movie "Clueless" about Beverly Hills teenagers. (Paramount Pictures)

Uptalk was on display in the 1995 movie “Clueless” about Beverly Hills teenagers. (Paramount Pictures)

When there is an upward inflection at the end of a sentence, as if it were a question, that’s called uptalk or upspeak. It’s often referred to as talking like a “valley girls.”

But a new study presented at the Acoustical Society of America by researcher Amanda Ritchart has found that uptalk in Southern California has spread to young men.

Carey Goldberg, co-host of WBUR’s CommonHealth blog, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson and Robin Young to talk about uptalk?


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  • Lars Watson

    Up talk is nothing new in Australia where it was common 30 years ago. This piece took a narrow view of the prevalence of this dialect. As a global language, English has lots of variety.

    • gShawn

      Note the conclusion of the actual study’s paper:
      “In addition, female speakers show expected characteristics, such as the larger pitch excursion – an effect similar to findings of uptalk in other English dialects, including New Zealand, Australian and London English (Warren, 2005; Ainsworth, 2004; Daly and Warren, 2001; Fletcher, Grabe, and Warren, 2005; Barry, 2007).”

      • Benjamin Lukoff

        Yes, that’s in the actual study, but how many people are going to click through to it? And of course you can’t click through from a story you hear on the radio. I know there’s only so much you can do in a limited amount of time, but this story doesn’t do much to dispel the myth that this is strictly a SoCal thing.

        • kestal

          I clicked to the study are read it.

          • Benjamin Lukoff

            You are surely in the minority.

    • careyg

      Yes, so sorry I didn’t get that in! As gShawn notes, uptalk has been studied in New Zealand, Australia and London, and part of what made this study noteworthy was that — oddly — it has been very little studied in southern California…Carey

  • MarkVII88

    At 27 minutes past the hour, Robin stated that she wondered whether the “uptalking” was more cultural among females because women tend to “dumb themselves down” as they get older because it’s not seen as cool for them to be the intelligent one in the room. With this comment by Robin, I could not disagree more. My wife is a successful entrepreneur, business owner, consultant, and mother. She’s the smartest person I know and I think her intelligence and poise only add to her aura of cool and attractive.

    • Robin Y

      Refer to my other comment above! Here’s where I should have said girls and not women! There’s plenty of research showing between grade school and middle school, smart girls pull back. But I’m glad you got to air your feelings about your wife!

      All best

    • Inkc

      Robin said “young women,” by which I believe she means late teens or very early 20-somethings. I’m guessing your wife is probably not in that age group so her comment wouldn’t apply to your wife. But I think it’s great that you’re proud of your wife!

  • Listener

    When listening to the radio, people that “Uptalk” for some reason irritate me and I will stop listening, turn the radio off. I hear it all the time at work, radio and I don’t know why, but it bothers me.

    • bcb

      Luckily, where I live I do not hear it in conversations. But I agree with the stop listening remark, with this addition: I’ve noticed this happen even on “Hear and Now” and other NPR programs by some of the “experts” that are used repeatedly for specific topics. I would request program leads such as Robin stop using them until they stop doing it. It makes them sound less expert and causes me to take them less seriously.

    • Blue_To_Shoe


  • Rick

    “Uptalk” is everywhere and extremely annoying, almost as much as the insertion of the word “Like” in the middle of phtrases. But one other trend I’ve noticed is people beginning sentences with the word “So”. Even on NPR it seems to be the new “You Know” to gather thoughts before making a point or asking a question. — Rick Miles, Houston

    • Blue_To_Shoe


      There was a public radio discussion a couple of months ago that I didn’t enjoy, because the ‘issue’s highly educated/highly qualified, young female proponent’s speech patterns – like this ‘up talk’ stuff – annoyed me.

      I thought it was ‘vocal fry’, but another post explained the differences to me.

    • FutureFox

      Statler: They’re all bad!

  • 65noname

    Is it absolutely necessary for robin young to refer to women as “girls” while referring to men as “men” during her byplay with the co-host? Whatever her terminology in her private life, this is a NPR radio program and it is inappropriate to refer to grown women as “girls”, espically in the same sentence as referring to adult males as “men”.

    • Robin Y

      Of course you’re right, and what I said shortly afterwards was, I WOULDN’T ever say “something is a girl thing”, but we know youhg girls tend to start “dumbing themselves down” because it’s not cool to be smart, and this all started with “valley girl ” speak (I’m paraphrasing here!) which is why it’s not funny.
      So…. take your point!

  • N.S.

    Amanda’s last name is Ritchart (doesn’t begin with a ‘p’). Please make the correction.

    • Rachel Rohr, Here & Now

      Fixed, thanks!

  • Steve MacNeil

    Thank you for this!

    I thought I was the only person who heard this annoying speech characteristic, which, I might add, seems to have become a prerequisite for almost all on air media contributors. NPR flagship program correspondents are particularly egregious offenders.

    I tell my children that poor spelling and grammar can make an intelligent person look rather stupid. ‘Uptalk’ has a similar effect on the credibility of broadcast media journalists.

  • Michele

    Listening to today’s program, I learned that I’m not the only person that finds “Uptalk” annoying. I have stopped listening to what used to be one of my favorite daily NPR programs because the host (female) uses it consistently. Too bad.

    • anoymous

      Too bad *for you*.

  • Leum Reb

    I’ll add my voice to those who have already posted that they’ve noticed the frequent occurrence of “uptalk” on NPR, and are annoyed by it — same here. I was just talking to someone about it last week; the other person immediately knew what I was referring to, and practically shouted in agreement.

    Poster “Rick” also mentioned the seemingly-ubiquitous “like” and “y’know.” When I was in second grade, our teacher threatened to charge us a nickel (it was a long time ago) for every time we said “um.” I wish there were more teachers like her today — we might be able to get rid of those verbal vermin.

    • Tappy

      I am leaving this thread to find out what on earth is NPR!

  • kestal

    I’m 63 and have lived in North Carolina most of my life. Many Southerners of all ages habitually speak like this, but I’ve never heard it classified as a dialect here.

    • Benjamin Lukoff

      It’s not a dialect in and of itself, but rather a feature of a dialect.

      • kestal

        Below are excerpts from the transcript of the interview whenever the word “dialect” was said.. The researchers assert that uptalk is “a legitimate dialect” rather than one feature of a dialect. Your remark suggests that you disagree with these researchers which is fine. I’ve no interest in debating the topic. This is just FYI.

        HOBSON: Are we soon going to all be uptalking?

        Well, it feels like it’s spreading, and at the very least these researchers suggest that we should understand that this is a legitimate dialect, and we can try to at least avoid misunderstandings.

        Right. Well, these researchers’ point, though, is that if you think of it as a dialect, they’re actually sounding normal to the other people who speak that dialect. And in fact you or I would sound kind of rude or unfriendly because we’re not doing that.

        • Benjamin Lukoff

          Goldberg is the reporter, not the researcher.

          • kestal

            I know that. One of the three researchers is Amanda Ritchart. Your condescension doesn’t bother me, but I’m not going to respond to any more of it. I’ve better things to do as I’m sure you have.

          • Benjamin Lukoff

            What condescension? You made an assertion about the researcher but gave quotations from the reporter as evidence. An intonational pattern does not a dialect make in and of itself.

  • Ian Anderson

    I’ve also noticed it frequently on NPR of late, including guests on H&N, often women who are experts in their field and otherwise speaking eloquently on the subject matter. I just cannot help equating it with the arrogance of girls in middle school, donning the affectation as they first became aware of their own appeal and the social power it gave them over classmates. in the context of radio, it’s nothing short of distracting.

    • anonymous

      Sounds like the problem is with you, then — get over your middle school issues.

  • Steve MacNeil

    Having read all the comments relating to this discussion, I’d like to invite all of you to be my new best friends.

    I’m happy to learn from you all that I’m not the only listener who cares about this sort of thing to any degree.

    • anonymous

      Explain exactly what it is that you care about here. Your entire argument is based on the fact that *you* find this annoying. So why not figure out a way to change your own attitude, rather than demand that others speak in a particular (and arbitrary) way?

      • Steve MacNeil

        Hello anonymous, thanks for asking.

        When my six year old daughter describes her kindergarten activities, she uses uptalk. That’s common and appropriate for children her age.

        When my nine year old daughter uses it to describe her fourth grade activities, she sounds childish and whiny, and I ask her to use a vocal tone more suitable for her age.

        When I hear NPR correspondents use uptalk in the context of serious news discussion, the inflected “question” suggests to me that our correspondent is seeking approval for what she is reporting, and, to my ear, lacks the authority to engage in serious discourse within the scope of a professional news environment.

        This isn’t to say that NPR correspondents are poorly informed on what they report and discuss.

        My point is that I (and most of those who have accepted the show’s invitation to comment) think this unprofessional speaking style distracts from the substance of the material.

  • Mike

    This study sounds like a bull… They only chose 23 men… That is not very inclusive… They would need 1000s of men to make an accurate judgement. Also, what are they even comparing this study to? Just another liberal trying to make men look like girls… And, I want to know the quality of the study, what were the controls? This chcik is just another man hating scum

  • Stephen Martin

    For some reason, this reminded me of the Spongebob episode where on of the denizens of Rock Bottom tells the the titular sea creature “I can’t *thpt* understand *thpt* your *thpt* accent *thpt*.

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