60-Second Science

Valley Boys Now Make Statements Sound Like Questions

Researchers say "valley speak," the tendency to end statements with a rising pitch, has been adopted by a new demographic: men. Christopher Intagliata reports

[Song audio: “So like I go into this like salon place, y'know/ And I wanted like to get my toenails done/ And the lady like goes, oh my god, your toenails/ Are like so grody]

I'm sure you're, like, totally familiar with "valley speak"—in which speakers end phrases with a rising pitch, so they sound like questions? The phenomenon's called "uptalk" and it's not just for valley girls. Linguists say guys now uptalk, too.

Researchers studied the speech of 12 female and 11 male native southern Californians. The volunteers had two tasks: to recount the plot of a TV episode, and to give directions. [Audio clip: "Start at the college.. keep going, towards the grocery store"]

Overall, women used uptalk twice as often as men. Both sexes finished a sixth of their statements with a rising pitch. But women exclusively also used uptalk to signal they were still speaking—to hold the floor. The researchers presented their findings at a recent meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. [Amanda Ritchart and Amalia Arvaniti, Do We All Speak Like Valley Girls? Uptalk in Southern Californian English]

The results suggest uptalk has transcended its traditional demographic...valley catch on with men. But no word yet whether other elements of the vernacular have followed suit. [Valley Girl audio: “Barf out! Gross! Gag me!”]

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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