THE HISTORY OF UPTALK. This article by Chris Stokel-Walker on the BBC website tries to trace the origin of “uptalk”, the habit of putting an upward inflection at the end of sentences, which makes those sentences sound like questions. Chris Stokel-Walker begins with what I have always thought of as the origin of the speech pattern—usage by girls in the San Fernando Valley in Califonia, as memorialized by the Frank Zappa song Valley Girl in 1982. Stokel-Walker cites theories that trace uptalk to Australia, to a British soap opera from 1986, to the influence of the people from Northern Ireland, and to “the influx of Spanish speakers into California”.

However, uptalk could have originated a long time ago. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, hypothesizes that uptalk could date as far back as the 9th Century. Liberman says: “It has been suggested that this distribution of rising inflection in sentences in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland probably had something to do with the Scandinavian influence there.”

Stokel-Walker quotes Liberman’s summary: “The short answer is no-one knows.”

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  1. Elmer says:

    I had thought that uptalk has been common in Canada for decades, eh?

  2. Carl Davidson says:

    I read somewhere that uptalk was frequently found in folks who grew up in the Washington, DC area. The only person I knew from DC was Bill Weitzel. He uptalked as you may remember.

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