General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Who do younger women (mostly) raise their voices at the end of a sentence, making it sound like a question?

Asked by wundayatta (58367 points ) April 28th, 2009

I know I read something about this a while back, but I can’t remember what it was. Still, there could be many theories as to why this happens. I’ve heard guys do this, too, but not folks who are out of their twenties, I think. It annoys a lot of professors, who tell their students they are in college, and should behave like serious people.

However, maybe this habit runs deeper. Maybe it isn’t a sign of questioning, but something else? What do you think?

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25 Answers

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Because it’s…..like…...that Valley Girl inflection…like? You know???

syz's avatar

I hate that

Harp's avatar

It’s been called “upspeak”. I used to think that it was a sign of a lack of confidence in what one was saying, as if the speaker were too uncertain to speak with conviction. But I’ve now come to see it as a way of maintaining the listener’s full engagement: that little lilt calls for an some form of acknowledgment by the listener- whether a little nod, or grunt, or “yeah” -that reassures the speaker that she has the listener’s full participation in the conversation. It has the same effect as saying “you hear what I’m saying?” at the end of each statement.

Les's avatar

It sounds so unintelligent.
Sometimes I think that if I talked like that, but said really intelligent things (for example, if I gave my thesis defense with that inflection) I’d be taken more seriously. Almost as if it were more of a stretch for my brain to comprehend what it was I was talking about so I must have worked much harder than the average person.

Terrible, I know.

KatawaGrey's avatar

You are not alone in your speculation.

morphail's avatar

It’s called uptalk, and it is used all kinds of Americans, not just teenagers. Bush does it too. It does not indicate uncertainty.
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002708.html
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002159.html

Facade's avatar

I don’t know what you’re talking about…

westy81585's avatar

They don’t all do it. It’s kind of like a habit or dialect some girls pick up. And it is most definitely super annoying.

westy81585's avatar

Oh and it’s called an “upward inflection”

VS's avatar

It is upward inflection and it originated with the Valley-speak that jbfletch referred to. Super annoying and even more so when spoken with a high-pitched whiny ultra-feminine voice.

essieness's avatar

I agree this crap is very annoying. I work with a few girls who talk like that and deal with even more of them on a daily basis working in a restaurant. It’s an interesting, yet annoying, trend and I’m sorry that it is quickly spreading throughout the country!

Harp's avatar

While we’re on the subject of young female speech, has anyone else noticed this tendency to constrict the voice in the throat, giving a vaguely choked, raspy quality to the voice? This seems quite common in <30 women, and I don’t remember hearing it at all a couple of decades ago.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@Harp I have not heard that. That makes me want to cough just thinking about it.

cyndyh's avatar

I’ve heard other people do this, too. Rural or northern Australians seem to do that. I’ve heard some English accents where people tend to do that -especially the ones where the “th” in a word sounds more like a soft “ff”. “I’m goin wiff ma broffa.” That sort of thing.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@harp good answer about the reasons for using that inflection, i enjoyed reading it

has anyone else noticed this tendency to constrict the voice in the throat, giving a vaguely choked, raspy quality to the voice?

Ever seen the movie “Mi Vida Loca”? LOL

rooeytoo's avatar

I noticed it starting to happen probably 15 years ago, I didn’t know it had a name. I hear it being done by a wide variety of folks, not just young females.

kruger_d's avatar

Lots of Canadians do this, eh? Men and women.

Harp's avatar

@jbfletcherfan @RedPowerLady Aha! Apparently linguists call this creaky voice, laryngealisation, pulse phonation, vocal fry or glottal fry. Here’s an mp3 sample (go to 1:47)

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@Harp ooohhhhh, too gravelly.

Jeruba's avatar

There’s a group of middle-aged women working in the cubicle neighborhood right next to mine. Whereas we have library-silence writing and editing jobs, our nearest neighbors have travel-desk jobs that keep them talking and laughing all day long, either on the phone or to each other or in dial-in meetings on cubicle speakerphones with a dozen more of the same. They all talk like that, some to extremes, in remarkably penetrating voices. One of them, I swear, has a voice that would shatter brick. She drops the penultimate phrase to her ankles and flings the ultimate up into the rafters. Sometimes I want to walk over there and hit her.

It think the rising inflection at the end is intended to be conciliatory, to soften the edge of a declarative statement, as if to ask for concurrence from the other rather than possibly giving offense by sounding too individually assertive. (I wonder if they do this in, say, Japanese.)

I’ve caught my husband doing it, and he’s past the “will you still feed me?” birthday. I don’t know why it’s so contagious. Sometimes I can’t tell if he’s asking a question. When I finally told him how much it bugs me, horrors, he said I do it too! I said let’s stamp it out. Tell me every single time I do it.

We’re working on it.

essieness's avatar

@Harp Oh that creaky voice is bad. There are a few podcast hosts (not NPR, lol) that talk like that and it drives me bonkers. I want them to clear their throats!

Amoebic's avatar

@harp Oh, my. Its strange to hear people differentiate my dialect from other areas. Thanks for sharing that. Like many people around here, I assumed I didn’t have an accent I’m guilty of creaky voice : P

mushisquishi's avatar

Like Jeruba said, I think it has to do with women that are subconsciously fearful of looking like a bitch when they are trying to declare something. Or somehow asking permission to say something smart or authoritative.

Spot's avatar

I first encountered this type of sentence-ending upward inflection in the late 1990’s at bi-weekly supervisory meetings that I was required to attend while working for a federal government agency. It was used exclusively by the women of a particular people-person, warm and fuzzy work group and it was very annoying. It was used by some of the more powerful women and the ones lower in the food chain copied it. Just as bad is the fairly recent use of the word “Look” to begin a sentence, largely thanks to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign. Everyone in the media mimicked him (Chuck Todd for one) and they are still doing it – makes you feel like someone is jabbing a finger in your face. Even more recent has been the ever-spreading use of the word “So” to being a sentence when answering a question: Q: When did you first meet Bob?; A: So, I first met Bob in grade school when we were about seven. I encountered this about a year ago while interviewing a male middle manager and had never heard it used to start a sentence before in that way. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s a way to buy an extra mili-second of time to gather your thoughts much the way “Ah” is used.

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