More men speaking in girls' 'dialect', study shows

Group of people talking Men are increasingly rising in pitch at the end of their sentences

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More young men in California rise in pitch at the end of their sentences when talking, new research shows.

This process is known as "uptalk" or "valleygirl speak" and has in the past been associated with young females, typically from California or Australia.

But now a team says that this way of speaking is becoming more frequent among men.

The findings were presented at the Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in California.

"We found use of uptalk in all of our speakers, despite their diverse backgrounds in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, bilingualism and gender," said Amanda Ritchart, a linguist at the University of California who led the research.

"We believe that uptalk is becoming more prevalent and systematic in its use for the younger generations in Southern California," she added.

The team recorded and analysed the voices of 23 native Californians aged between 18 and 22. The researchers were therefore not able to infer similar language patters in older Californians.

Sounding ditzy

People who speak uptalk are often misunderstood to be insecure, shallow or slightly dim, according to the team, who say this was not necessarily the case.

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.

She added that "uptalk" had negative connotations which made men less likely to admit to using it, but what was clear was that it was spreading.

"It grates on people, some people think it sounds really ditzy or insecure. This does not accurately come across like that to the native speakers."

Women leaders

Claire Nance, a linguistics lecturer at Lancaster University, commented that the research reinforced the fact that uptalk was "increasingly widespread across all kinds of people".

"Typically, women are trail-blazers in language change and take up innovative features first, then males start using them later.

"No spoken language ever remains stable and constant change is very much the norm. However, change often causes alarm among people who do not use an innovative feature, and uptalk appears to be another example of this trend," Dr Nance added.

She explained that speakers may use uptalk to convey politeness or empathy with the listener, but that this was not always understood by non-uptalkers, perhaps due to its similarity to question intonation.

Inside Science is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thursdays at 16:30 and 21:00. Listen to the full Inside Science programme here or download the podcast here.

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