I’m sensitive to language, both oral and written. When someone utters a grammatical faux pas or malapropism, I try hard not to make a face, even though I cringe inwardly. So, I am miffed by the content barrage of uptalk everywhere I turn. For the uninitiated, let me explain the term. An article in Psychology Today, by Hank Davis, defined it as follows: “Uptalk. That ever-growing tendency to end statements with upward inflections to make them sound like questions. Like you’re not quite sure what you’re saying is true. Or clear. Or will be acceptable to your audience. To suggest that you’re willing to back down, or restate your point, or change your viewpoint altogether if your listeners don’t nod their approval.”
When we learned sentence structure in our early elementary school years, we associated different sentence types with their respective punctuation marks and inflections. Declarative sentences, those that convey a statement, wish or desire, end in periods, and a person’s voice lowers at the end of that type of sentence. For example, “Today, I bring you the latest news.” This sentence should be declared with assurance and a lowered inflection. Interrogative sentences, on the other hand, are questions, and their punctuation is a question mark. In this case, a speaker’s voice ends with an upward inflection. “Televised news establishes linguistic norms for millions of people.” So, when news commentators use uptalk, are they reading tele-prompters filled with question marks? (Now that deserves an upward inflection!) Every time someone utters a sentence in uptalk, he sounds tentative. And I use the male pronoun purposely, because although this phenomenon probably started with girls, it has since become endemic, spreading to young and old, men and women. And it’s not confined to this country either. The author of the Psychology Today article stated that he wrote an article in a Toronto newspaper years ago called “The Canuck Uptalk Epidemic.” Furthermore, a BBC article states, “But the question of how even the UK was infected with this speech pattern has never been adequately answered. . . .Many people in California assume the pattern developed there. In this theory, it developed first among young women in the San Fernando Valley. The Frank Zappa song “Valley Girl,” from 1982, is a musical testament to the phenomenon.
Let’s hope that this epidemic of uncertainly can end. Speak confidently and others get the message!