Today's New York Times article, "They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve", takes a new look at Uptalk or Valley Girl speech. Uptalk is a rising inflection that sounds like you're asking a question. It's most prevalent in females and 20-somethings. Linguists are saying that these young women are "pioneering vocal trends and popular slang in a more sophisticated way than people realize". They cited that young women can be trendsetters in vocal innovation as evidenced by the pervasiveness of Uptalk in the culture. Even an American Express customer service recording has been infiltrated with the Uptalk virus. The voiceover speaks with elongated nasal sounds and seems to be catering to a young audience (800 492-3344).
In addition to the spreading of Uptalk, a vocal trend referred to as "croaking," seems to be emerging. Clinically known as vocal fry, "croaking" is a low pitched bubbling of the vocal folds when they are lax. Linguists believe vocal fry may be a way of showing disinterest or a result of women lowering their voices to sound more authoritative.
Political correctness may play a role in the defense of Uptalk. On a recent radio interview on KWMR, a listener called in to tell me that Uptalk was a way to be less threatening. I told him that you can have a non-threatening tone and still bring your voice down at the end of a sentence.
Some linguists make light of speech patterns that may be changing the vocal landscape; yet, as a speaking strategist, I push back and say this: Uptalk will not serve you in the workplace. I receive requests to improve the executive presence and polish of many men and women in corporate America. Careers have stalled because women and men were unable to speak with more conviction and authority.
One woman I coached looked like an executive but her vocal and verbal patterns undermined her physical executive presence. It took several coaching sessions before she could be promoted to Vice-President. The one population where this Uptalk is absent is in the executive board room. As long as managers complain about this vocal pattern, I'll be called in to coach them.
If employees want to advance in their careers they will need to speak the business language of success. Is Uptalk here to stay? Will it become acceptable in the workplace? Who knows? But for now, if you want to move up, talk down.
Is Uptalk a problem in the workplace? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section. To learn more about Uptalk, watch this video Does Uptalk Make You Upchuck?