Uptalk?

UPDATE: The version of the paper published in The Proceedings of Meetings in Acoustics (POMA) can be found here. Please note that further work on this project is still underway.


On December 5, 2013, I presented recent work by myself and Amalia Arvaniti (my former advisor at UCSD) that investigated the use of high rise terminals in SoCal English at the ASA (session 4pSCa).


This presentation received a fair amount of media attention. Some coverage appeared in BBC News, NPR Science Friday, National Geographic, and the International Business Times, among others. We are very excited to bring visibility to our work and to the field of Linguistics in general! It is important to keep our study in perspective, though.


To clarify a few things that have been said about us (myself and Amalia Arvaniti) in the press:


  1. -I am a graduate student in the department (I am not a professor)

  2. -I do not have my own “research team”, though I have gratefully received help with my work from previous research assistants Anabelle Cadang and Andy Hsiu

  3. -We have not found the “ground zero” of Valley Girl Speak. In other words, our study only came from speakers at one point in time (June - October 2012). We cannot say anything definitive about how or when speakers began using “uptalk” in SoCal, though there are some speculations/theories/ideas about this topic from other researchers.

  4. -Our study does not give any definitive reasons for why speakers use “uptalk”, though again several researchers and linguists have proposed different ideas about this topic.

  5. -This was a production study, not a perception study. Therefore, we do not argue from our results that nonnative speakers cannot distinguish a SoCal question from a statement, though a follow-up perception study could prove to be very interesting and informative.


I have used quotes around the word uptalk for a reason. For the general audience, we used a coverall term to describe that we were investigating High Rise Terminals, or even more generally, final rises at the end of utterances of speakers in SoCal. Some linguists define uptalk as rising only at the end of declaratives; in this case, the term has been used more broadly.


If you would like to know more about the topic of uptalk, I recommend Mark Liberman’s blog posts on the Language Log and links therein. Here is a recent post regarding our work, the ensuing media coverage, and other insights by Liberman, which also includes a response from Arvaniti. Here is also a post regarding the media coverage from Eric Bakovic, a professor from my department.