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Essay

All about 'upspeak'?

By David Yenches

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Upspeak, or as linguists call it, the high rising terminal or high rising intonation, is a speech pattern common among young North American women, especially on the West Coast. You can hear it when the speaker's voice goes up at the end of a statement phrase or sentence instead of down.

I first encountered upspeak in Tokyo when doing level check interviews with young Japanese women who had returned after spending time living and studying in California. It had imprinted itself on their way of speaking English. I never encountered it in Japanese women who had lived and studied in the U.K.

There are some fiercely debated points about upspeak you can find online, including whether it is only young women who use it, and whether it makes the speaker sound less confident or unsure. Young women get most of the blame, that's for sure, and at least one female writer thinks women use it to show their inferiority to a male listener.

Will it damage your chances of getting a job? We know that the sound of your voice is an important part of the first impression you make in a job interview. It seems CEOs with deeper voices make more money than those with higher voices.

Where did upspeak come from? Some hear it in the way New Zealanders speak, or in the speech patterns of Norwegian immigrants to Minnesota and North Dakota. The jury is still out on its origins.

Depending on your age, you might not even notice it. People in their 40s and older tend to hear it and form a negative impression of upspeakers as not serious or intelligent. If you are under 40, you may not notice it. If you're an upseaker and think you might have a job interview in English with someone over 40, then train yourself not to use rising intonation (imagine in each sentence you are walking down, down some stairs) — especially if your interviewer is an over-40 male.

In every language, teenage boys and girls have their own way of talking, and it's constantly changing, with frequent new expressions and code words. I can remember hearing Japanese girls using "Eto sa … Ano sa …" several times in each sentence. This is just the same as the way young Americans now use "like" before quoted speech: "I was like, 'Why did you do that?' " or every time they want to, like, pause, like, in a sentence.

My advice — whether you're an upspeaker or not — is to just enjoy the many varieties of English you hear, but be aware of the negative impression your way of speaking or accent can, like, have on your listener.

「アップスピーク」に関する全て?

upspeakとは、英語の文章やフレーズの最後のイントネーションを上げる半疑問形のこと。このしゃべり方は特に米西海岸の若い女性の間で多く聞かれるというが、筆者は日本で最初に耳にした。

The Japan Times ST: August 12, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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