Worldwide Wednesday: Uptalk and Vocal Fry

You have heard uptalk?  Of course you have!  Associated with teenage girls, guys do it too – an upward inflection at the end of a sentence, turning a declarative into an interrogative.  It may seem timid or uncertain as if asking for confirmation or approval.  And sometimes it is being used to make sure the listener is still listening and understands.

Recently BBC ran an article on the linguistic phenomenon, suggesting the affectation had not originated with Moon Unit Zappa’s Valley Girl song – Like, oh my god! That’s so bitchen!  Some in the UK say uptalk immigrated to British palettes with the Australian soap Neighbors in 1986 asserts the BBC.  But in 1975 linguist Robin Lakoff documented a peculiar sentence pattern … which has the form of a declarative answer to a question and is used as such, but has the rising inflection typical of a yes-no statement.” Right? The pattern was coined “uptalk” in 1993 by The New York Times.  Linguist Mark Liberman suggests that like the rest of the English language uptalk originates in the British Isles as far back at the 9th century.

Is uptalk indicative of uncertainty or dominance?  Old or new?  Vocal fry has subtle characteristics and the origin remains obscure.  I think it is ironic that the BBC is asking, because Brits seem to always follow a statement with a question. Don’t they?  That’s kind of like uptalk. Isn’t it? Thank goodness Americans would never start to do that … would we?

See a video where vocal fry and uptalk are demonstrated and dissed!