Guys Are Talking Like Valley Girls These Days, Too: “Uptalk" Expanding To Other Demographic Group

By Ajit Jha on December 4, 2013 3:00 PM EST

Valley guys
A new study has found that guys are now talking like valley girls, too. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The way you speak (usually) says a lot about where you come from. Young southern Californian females, for instance, are usually associated with "uptalk," also known as "Valley Girl Speak."  Valley girl speech — explained and immortalized by Moon Zappa, Frank Zappa's daughter, in a 1982 — is marked by a rise in pitch at the ends of sentences, and is usually connected to teenage girls. But now linguists are arguing that uptalk is infectious, and is expanding to other demographic groups, including males.

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Linguists have for long been interested in speech patterns that include rising intonation at the end of a sentence even when not asking questions, AKA "uptalk". Thomas Linneman, a sociologist from William and Mary, for instance found that the context determined the rates of uptalk to a considerable extent. This study, however, for the first time distinguishes an uptalk question from an uptalk statement based on distinct melodic vocal patterns. According to researcher Amanda Ritchart, a linguist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in La Jolla, "uptalk is becoming more prevalent and systematic in its use for the younger generations in southern California." The work will be presented on Dec. 26, 2013, in San Francisco, Calif at the fall meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).

However, the claims made by Ritchart could be open to debate since the research sample included only undergraduate students ages 18-22. "We cannot say anything definitive about older southern Californians," Ritchart admitted. Nevertheless, the use of "Valley girl" speech was found across the sample despite differences in "backgrounds in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, bilingualism and gender." 

Those who are not familiar with uptalk may not necessarily be able to distinguish "uptalked" statements from normal questions. Ritchart's work, however, takes a closer look at the pitch difference between the two to identify the difference. The rise, when used for a simple statement begin significantly later in the utterance compared to the vocal rise used for asking a question. However, this difference, according to Dr. Amalia Arvaniti, co-author of the study, is subtle enough to be easily missed by typical non-uptalkers. So, they can easily confuse questions for statements. However, native south California speakers, according to Arvaniti, tend to be aware of the difference, and  can identify the exact location of the rise start. In addition, they can discern subtle changes and extent of the rise in the pitch.  

More importantly, this study claims to demolish the stereotype assumptions on uptalk speech. "Our study busts the stereotype associated with uptalk that those who speak uptalk actually ask questions instead of make statements, a tendency that is supposed to be linked to insecurity," Arvaniti said. 

A major aim of the research was to understand the dialect development and analyze the implications of the same for global communication. For instance, Arvaniti presents this scenario: "Imagine a teacher from the American Midwest moving to California and hearing students give a presentation using uptalk." In this situation, "the southern California speaker may sound tentative or even ditzy" to the Midwesterner, according to Arvaniti, while the teacher may seem unfriendly to students because of the lack of uptalk from their teacher leading possibly to impaired relationships and communication.  

The researchers claim that their work has implications for achieving clearer global communications, an imperative in many professions today. 

Photo above courtesy of Shutterstock.

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