Valley girl-style "uptalk" is, like, totally on the rise, y’know?
According to a recent study of Southern California college students, an increasing number of young men are adopting the lilting rise at the end of sentences that’s more typically associated with young women, with "Valley girl" referring to the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and environs. University of California San Diego linguist Amanda Ritchart will present her findings at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, held this week in San Francisco.
"We believe that uptalk is becoming more prevalent and systematic in its use for the younger generations in Southern California," Ritchart said in a statement.
Ritchart and her colleagues recorded the speech of about 24 native Southern Californians -- half men, half women -- while they read directions from a map or described what happened in a clip from a TV show. Both men and women tended to raise the pitch of their voice at the ends of sentences (what linguists more formally refer to as a “high rising terminal,” or HRT).
"We found use of uptalk in all of our speakers, despite their diverse backgrounds, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, bilingualism and gender,” Ritchart said.
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The team’s research also highlights the innate understanding that natives in the land of the Valley Girls have of "uptalk."
"Our study busts the stereotype associated with uptalk that those who speak uptalk actually ask questions instead of make statements,” Ritchart’s coauthor, Amalia Arvaniti, said in a statement. "Native Southern California speakers know the difference based on the exact location of the rise start, and the extent to which pitch changes in the rise."
But while uptalk is commonly associated with Southern California, its true origins may be slightly more global.
In the 1990s, commentators in the U.K. blamed the rise of uptalk among English teenagers on that most insidious of forces: Australian soap operas. And it turns out that a “high-rising intonation in statements” has been noticed by researchers Down Under since the mid-1960s. University of Western Australia linguist Penny Lee told the Guardian in 2001 that one of the earliest mentions of uptalk in the literature was in an interview in 1965, when it was marked as an aberration. Uptalk also appears in linguistic journals in Australia and New Zealand starting in the 1980s, according to Lee.
Furthermore, despite the popular portrayal of uptalk as the hallmark of an insecure ditz, the HRT has been on the rise in demographics aside from the mall-rat crowd for decades. Linguist Mark Liberman noted in 2005 that then-President George W. Bush was lilting the ends of his sentences more often than usual in speeches.
In fact, uptalk may actually be a way to assert oneself; the late British linguist David Brazil theorized that “rise tones” were a way for a person to “hold the floor” by pressuring listeners to respond to their voice. A 2005 study from Hong Kong Polytechnic University researchers Winnie Cheng and Martin Warren found that in business meetings and conversations between academic advisors and advisees, the person in the higher position of power used “rise tones” much more often.
“So maybe the problem with ‘Valley Girls’ and other youth of the past couple of decades is really that they're, like, totally self-confident and socially aggressive?” Liberman wrote. “You know?”