Uptalk: Speech in which declarative sentences end with a rising pitch.
Of the ways a writer can convey tone in dialogue, few carry as much punch as a question mark at the end of a non-question. You can picture the speaker easily? A wimpy, insecure, superficial airhead who’s either oblivious or hungry for approval? This stereotypical Valley girl usage has spread far beyond the San Fernando Valley of southern California, especially (but not exclusively) among women and the young.
Though widely derided, uptalk can be a mark of strength. It connects speaker with listener, inviting a nod of understanding. People with more authority in a conversation—doctors to patients, supervisors to employees, scientists to laypeople—often use uptalk to reduce distance and soften an otherwise impersonal lecture.
A rising tone in speech, as in music, signals there’s more to follow. Far from showing deference, uptalk flashes a warning: Don’t interrupt me. I’m not done.
Ending a statement with a question mark in written dialogue has pros and cons. Pro: It conjures up a ready image. Con: Like many stereotypes, that image may not hold true.
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