Uptalk—a rise in intonation at the end of a statement—is most commonly associated with “Valley Girls”, but is actually fairly common in all American speech. And, as Thomas Linneman argues (Gender & Society February 2013), it may also be a key way that gender is both learned and communicated in our interactions.
Analyzing the speech patterns of 300 “Jeopardy!” contestants, Linneman finds that uptalk is used in the delivery of a full third of all responses. While women use uptalk more often, men also answer with a questioning tone, and are more likely to do so when engaging with a woman contestant. By definition, uptalk occurs during statements, not questions. Although “Jeopardy!” contestants must phrase their answer as a question, Linneman argues that responses are “questions” in name only—they’re treated as statements on the show.
Uptalk is most common with incorrect answers, lending support to the idea that it is a sign of uncertainty. But even accounting for accuracy, gender differences remain. For example, as women’s success on the show increases, so too does their use of uptalk—perhaps, Linneman argues, to account for this “breach” in gender performance. On the other hand, men decrease their use of uptalk when they’re doing well, unless they are correcting a female contestant. Men seem to realize that their gender expectations demand competitiveness and certainty.
Interested readers should also check out a guest post on this research on the TSP Community Page Sociological Images.