As a woman in business, I am often aware of the way I speak, and how it comes across to clients and co-workers. Many damaging labels end up stuck to women who try to get their point across in power situations, and I like to do my bit in recognizing when that’s happening.
So I’m cheered to see that one linguistic quirk, uptalk, is being quickly reclaimed! (Uptalk is the“Valley Girl” tendency to end a declarative sentence with an upward inflection, making it sound like a question.) We have all heard about how women need to stop speaking in this manner if they want to be taken seriously, how it makes us sound undecided, or unsure, etc. etc. Of course, most of this criticism comes from people who are used to being in power and defining access to it — and now we’re looking at how uptalk has actually been a subversive demonstration of power all along.
Uptalk may share a technique that also occurs in American Sign Language — where a person signing a conversation raises their eyebrows, to signal to their partner the existence of a yes/no question, when there isn’t one in the content.
“According to studies:
(study 1: ; study 2) […], uptalk serves the same purpose: By turning a declaration into a question, it invites the listener to listen actively, to nod or confirm, much like adding ‘you know?’ or ‘right?’ to a sentence. It also serves a more basic function of ‘floor-holding,’ preventing interruption by indicating there’s more to come; it turns a period into a semicolon.
[Journalist S.I.] Rosenbaum draws the connection beyond linguistics into sociology: Like ASL speakers, young women are often ignored or talked over. So it makes sense that they’d develop a similar defense.”
Nick Douglas of Lifehacker continues that “everyone” is now adopting uptalk, because of the strain that personal devices and up-to-the-second connectivity put on our attention spans. This is interesting, but I’m not ready to set aside the gendered nature of this particular bias quite yet. I think it’s high time for everyone to start listening to uptalkers, and not get hung up on how they’re saying it. And then, we can tackle the stigma of vocal fry next!