Saturday, June 5, 2010

Where did uptalk really come from?

The stereotype that it is from 1980s California Valley Girls clearly is wrong. So, who should get the credit (or blame) for spreading it? There is evidence for far earlier use in the United States and Canada. Also, there is evidence for both Australia, and New Zealand, which I will avoid discussing in order to sidestep the controversy about which country had it earlier.

Uptalk has a history in the United States before the first use of the term in 1993. In a documentary called American Tongues (1987) you can watch the comedian Robert Klein describe how his Georgia in-laws “talk in questions.” There was a 14-page article in 1982 by Marvin Ching in American Speech magazine about “The Question Intonation in Assertions.” Mr. Ching gives numerous examples taken from the Memphis area. He also points out that on page 9 of his novel Marry Me (1976) John Updike describes Sally’s intonation:

“Her voice was lifting everything into questions again.”

The TV comedy show Rhoda(1974) featured Lorenzo Music as an unseen character heard over the apartment building intercom who often began a conversation with:

“Hello? This is Carlton? Your doorman?"

In his novel The Angry Ones (1960) John Alfred Williams has the black narrator point out that:

“Southerners have a way of making statements sound like questions.”

Similarly, in the February 8, 1995 Toronto Globe and Mail, Robert Fulford pointed out that “Uptalk has a long, long history?” He begins by noting that it is described by Jack Batten in the book Lawyers (1978). He also found a discussion deriding its use from a Waterloo County school board meeting back in 1901!

In closing, I note that there is a novel by Angela Thirkell called High Rising (1933) which is set in a mythical village located in the equally fictitious British county of Barsetshire. Presumably the railway station located there was known as the High Rising Terminal.

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