“Uptalk,” the habit of increasing the pitch of one’s voice at the end of sentences, is on the rise among males in California, new research shows.

Known commonly as “valleygirl speak” and among linguists as “high rising terminal” — referring to a rise in tone in the final syllable or syllables of an utterance — uptalk was found “in all of our speakers, despite their diverse backgrounds in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, bilingualism and gender,” according to Amanda Ritchart, who led fellow researchers at the University of California.

“We believe that uptalk is becoming more prevalent and systematic in its use for the younger generations in Southern California,” she told the Acoustical Society of America.

The team recorded and analyzed the voices of 23 native Californians between the ages of 18 and 22. They were not able to infer similar language patters in older Californians.

Some people, especially members of older generations, find the use of uptalk disconcerting and unclear. Many hear it conveying a lack of certainty in the speaker, especially when it is not varied according to social context, such as formal and informal settings. It is reasonable to suspect the phenomenon has correlations in writing.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


Speaking to the BBC’s Inside Science programme, co-author Amalia Arvanati, from the University of Kent, said it was hard to know how this process started.

“People talk about Frank Zappa’s song, Valley Girl. Finding out where it started is very difficult because we don’t have good records of how people use pitch.

“One possibility is that this is an extension of a pitch pattern that we actually find in most varieties of English which is used when you’re making a statement but you’re [also] asking indirectly for the interlocutor to confirm if they are with you,” Prof Arvaniti said.

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