Beanery Online Literary Magazine

June 22, 2011

Listen Up and Talk Down



Norma E. Leary

     If you’re really listening to what people are saying, you’re certainly aware of the continuing epidemic of uptalking.  “Uptalk,” in a manner of speaking, is the habitual verbal delivery of declarative sentences ending with audible question marks rather than periods, i. e. “It truly is annoying?” (Yes, it is, unless you’re tone deaf.)

     Media talk show guests are often guilty of omitting periods more noticeable when the questioning tone is heard throughout declarative, compound sentences. It smacks of the talker bent on alerting listeners not to interrupt because he or she isn’t finished: “Me and my friend (I’m already cringing) went to see his show?, we had box seats? and so were up close? and glad we went” because it was worth the price?”

     Exhausting to hear! As unnerving as a mouthful of shivering jello resisting being swallowed.

     Spoken upswings, begging to be grounded, could be fatal to making solid, first impressions. Surely floating verbalization suggests the speaker is indecisive, lacks confidence, or is painfully frightened. Maybe wimpy, compared to those engaged in down-and-done inflection.

     Upon first meeting a college student, I asked, “What’s your name?”

    “I’m Mary>”

     “Are you sure?” I returned. She looked baffled, whereupon I asked “What’s your major?”

   “Communications? I want to be an advertizing agent?” she replied, suggesting she wasn’t sure.

    By now, I was weary being put on phony alert to come up with answers to questions that weren’t! So, once a teacher, always a teacher. I gently, kindly, without apology offered, “You’re dream career might be in question (no pun intended) unless you dust off periods and use them when and where needed. If I were a company personnel director, I’d never hire applicants unable to speak firmly. To vocally punctuate correctly is vital to being to being understood.”

     She accepted this critical, free advice, to my delight, and confessed she’d not considered the current sky-high chatter to be a bother.

     A radio ad once declared, “It may not be fair but you are judged by the words you use.” This is indeed fair and true. And you’re also judged by the sound of spoken words.

     Max Lerner said in ‘American Civilization:’ “A people’s speech is the skin of its culture.” Thus, by blending uptalk with bad grammar, we’re threatened with a terminal, cultural, skin disease.

     As a musician, I’m aware of the pitch and tonal quality of many things: the song of the vacuum sweeper, the computer’s monotone tune, etc. Thus, it’s easy being aware, irritated, and worried about goofy speech patterns and the annoying, unresolved flip-ups. Out of respect for our language, “Uppers need to be brought down.”

     The wondering  vocal tilt seems more prevalent among those under age forty, including children, copying what they’re hearing. Perhaps this hopefully temporary fad began when immigrants, unsure of pronunciations, began verbal quizzing either for affirmation or forgiveness due to their uncertainty when speaking a new language.

     One fellow, fielding my uptalk complaint, credited his speech teacher instructing students to raise their voices at the end of sentences to avoid having the last words inaudible. This excuse seems more like sifting blame than the truth.

     Frankly, short of funding brain-to-throat transplants to eliminate this puzzling uptalk assault, we must bravely question the non-questioning questioners and stress how their speech patterns disturb normal comprehension.

     Uptalkers need to know that soaring sentence endings have the indignant sound of the speaker having suddenly been goosed!



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