For all those of you who find your patience tested by uptalking (the linguistic tic of speaking a statement as though it were a question, as perfected by valley girls, Australians, and the young), things are about to become bleaker. Researchers in California have discovered that the rising intonation is on the increase. Not only that, but men have started using it too.
It has often been derided as a girlish habit, one picked up from years of watching Clueless or Neighbours, depending on which continent you like to hold responsible for the oral end of days. But after decades of resistance (an embargo on chick flicks and Aussie soaps, coupled with a sturdy refusal ever to hear any word spoken by Paris Hilton), men have finally given in to the inevitable interrogative tide.
I have to confess that although I prefer to reserve my questioning tone for questions, I have an odd fondness for high rise terminals, or uptalking. I grew up in Birmingham, where the dialect often conveys doubt to the non-native speaker. Brummie sentences tend to rise at the end, not because we’re an especially inquisitive bunch, but because the people of Birmingham are naturally apologetic and expect people to doubt our word (for no reason. Birmingham is a triumphantly lovely place, all the more so because the rest of the country looks down on it).
One of the many reasons people cite for disliking uptalkers is that their persistent questioning tone conveys uncertainty. If you’re not fluent in uptalker subtext, it just sounds like a mistake: giving the intonation of a question where none is needed. But I think for most uptalkers, it comes from a more conciliatory place than that.
When a teenager tells a parent, ‘I’m going out?’, it isn’t because they’ve misunderstood the type of sentence they’re expressing. Surely they’re finding middle ground: stopping short of asking for permission (‘May I go out?’), but conscious that when they say they’re going out, they require at least some degree of consent if they are to avoid an argument and obtain a lift.
It is also a device used to achieve consensus. If you tell a story to a group using high-rise terminals, you’re giving an audience permission to chip in, adding their version of events. You’re opening yourself up to other people: something women tend to find attractive. So is it really surprising that guys have started doing it too?