High Rising Terminal

valley girl

The high rising terminal (HRT), also known as uptalk, upspeak, rising inflection, or high rising intonation, is a feature of some accents of English where statements have a rising intonation pattern in the final syllable or syllables of the utterance.

The origins of HRT remain uncertain. Geographically, anecdotal evidence places the conception of the American English variety on the West Coast – anywhere from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest. Others have suggested it originated in New Zealand, and it is unclear whether the American English varieties and the Oceanic varieties had any influence on each other regarding the spread of HRT.

It has been noted in areas of Canada, in Cape Town, the Falkland Islands, and in the United States where it is often associated with a particular sociolect that originated among affluent teenage girls in Southern California (Valleyspeak by Valley girls). Elsewhere in the United States, this intonation is characteristic of the speech heard in those parts of rural North Dakota and Minnesota that through migration have come under the influence of the Norwegian language.

Although it is ridiculed in Britain as ‘Australian question intonation’ (AQI) and blamed on the popularity of Australian soap operas among teenagers, HRT is also a feature of several UK dialects, especially in the mid-Ulster and Belfast variants. A 1986 report stated that in Sydney, it is used more than twice as often by young generations as by older ones, and particularly by women. It has been suggested that the HRT has a facilitative function in conversation (i.e., it encourages the addressee to participate in the conversation), and such functions are more often used by women. It also subtly indicates that the speaker is ‘not finished yet,’ thus perhaps discouraging interruption. Its use is also suggestive of seeking assurance from the listener that she is aware of what the speaker is referring to.

Although several personalities in the popular media in Australia, Britain, and the United States have negatively portrayed the usage of HRT, claiming that its use is exhibiting a speaker’s insecurities about the statement, more recent evidence shows that leaders of the peer group are more likely to use HRT in their declaratives than the junior members of the particular peer group. According to University of Pennsylvania phonologist Mark Liberman, George W. Bush began to use HRT extensively in his speeches as his presidency continued.

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