Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Japanese teens? are, like, uptalking, too?

Uptalk is going global.

You know that annoying way of talking? where you raise the tone of your voice at the end of a phrase or sentence? like it's a question? But it really isn't a question?

Well, not only is the uptalk phenomenon found in Canada, Australia, and other English-speaking countries. It's also found in the Japanese language.

That's right—Japanese teens all over Japan today can be heard speaking declarative sentences that rise in pitch at the end like a question. In Japanese, the phenomenon is known as shiriagari intoneshon ("rising-at-the-end intonation") or simply shiriagari.

Just like in the English-speaking world, Japanese uptalk is primarily a phenomenon of the young, but many older people who should know better are guilty of it, too. And just like in the English-speaking world, uptalk has teachers, parents, linguistic purists, and others—essentially the entire adult world (even ones who use uptalk unconsciously)—up in arms.

Japanese professor of phonetics and second-language acquisition Shoko Haruoka has written a paper [link to Japanese PDF] titled Acquisition of English vocal expressions through oral interpretation: methods and techniques [my translation]. In the paper, he touches on the commonalities between Japanese shiriagari and the phenomenon in English [again, the translation is mine]:

Inoue (1997 pg. 163), in The socialness of intonation, finds commonality in changes in intonation taking root in Australia, America, and Japan. Although the degree of acoustic similarity is unclear, he cites examples in describing three objectives shared in common by users of Australia's questioning intonation, America's uptalk, and Japan's shiriagari: (1) indicating that the speaker is not yet finished talking, (2) pre-empting any interruption by the listener, and (3) asking the listener for a sign that he or she is paying attention.

You can argue about the psychological or sociological or other factors behind uptalk, but I think one point often overlooked in the debate is that every generation of young people wants to be different from their parents, and speaking differently is just one way of achieving that goal.

Which means that some day? uptalk won't be cool anymore? because it will be old and stale?

Or because that's how everyone's mom and dad will be talking.

—Mellow Monk

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