Have you noticed that some people sound less authoritative than others? It could be because they are unsure, hesitant or speaking too quietly for the context. But commonly the reason is the intonation being used – what we call “uptalk.”
Also known as “upspeak,” “rising inflection” or, more officially, HRT – “high rising terminal” – uptalk refers to the repeated use of upward intonation throughout speech. This intonation makes statements sound like questions. And it is becoming increasingly more common in Canada.
The origins of uptalk are uncertain. We do know, though, that it has become increasingly more common in recent decades. Hollywood television has clearly had an influence, where a style of slang which incorporates uptalk, known as “Valspeak,” began to be popularized in the 1980s and 90s and copied by young women all over North America.
For some reason, uptalk is particularly common in Canada. It began with younger women and spread to the younger generation in general. Given such common usage, new immigrants have begun to imitate it in the attempt to learn native intonation patterns.
There is nothing wrong with uptalk and it tends to sound friendly and casual. But if you want to sound professional, it can work against you. The constant upward intonation makes it sound like you are seeking approval and that you are not quite sure if what you are saying is okay.
Try this trick – put a recorder on your desk at work and turn it on now and then throughout the day when you are speaking. Later, go back and listen to it. How often do you use uptalk? If it is occasional, don’t worry. But if you find you are regularly using upward intonation when you are making statements, develop awareness and try to adjust the intonation to what I call the “arc intonation pattern,” which is simply jumping up at the beginning of the idea and getting lower as you complete it. (More about this in a later article.)
A simple adjustment from the downward-upward intonation pattern (uptalk) to a basic jump-up step-down intonation pattern (the arc) will help to increase the authority and professionalism of your speech. I believe the result will be that people will listen more carefully to what you say and, ultimately, your speech will be more effective.