In Defense of Upspeak

By August 31, 2016Home, Speaking

Today I want to defend a speaking habit that seems to be the “talk of the town,” no matter what town you live in. This particular habit has been harshly—and in my view, unfairly—condemned in the media: upspeak.

As a voice coach and verbal strategist with a degree in music, I believe this negative portrayal has hastily blacklisted upspeak without acknowledging its advantages. As a result, speakers are avoiding or denying a speaking advantage that’s waiting right on the tip of their tongue.

This video will bring you up to speed on the upspeak discussion and then uncover the ways in which upspeak can benefit you.

Most importantly, I distinguish between the two versions of upspeak:

1. Slide Upspeak: when you take the last syllable of the word before a comma or a period and attach it to a big, upward-sliding pitch.

2. Stair-step Upspeak: the last syllable before a comma or a period is attached to a pitch that ascends progressively, as if you were walking up a staircase one step at a time.

Knowing the distinctions between these two variations of upspeak can help you in two ways. First, you can be a more educated listener and speaker the next time you encounter an upspeak article in the news. Second, you can bring stair-step upspeak back into your sentences and showcase how creative and passionate you are to everyone listening to you.

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TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Roger Love, celebrity voice coach, top-selling author and founder of The Voice of Success Live. I’m working to make the world a better place, one speaking voice at a time, starting with yours.

Today I want to defend a speaking habit that seems to be the “talk of the town,” no matter what town you live in. This particular habit has been harshly—and in my view, unfairly—condemned in the media: upspeak.

Out of a presumably good-natured desire by a few individuals to save the world from some potential negative effects of upspeak, the general public has been swamped with articles and news stories portraying upspeak as if it the worst thing to happen to the English language since texting. But as a voice coach and verbal strategist with a degree in music, I believe this negative portrayal has hastily blacklisted upspeak without acknowledging its benefits. As a result, speakers are avoiding or denying a speaking advantage that’s waiting right on the tip of their tongue.

Let me bring you up to speed on the discussion

and then uncover the ways in which upspeak can benefit you.

First, some background. If you learned English in the USA, you know that we raise our pitch to a higher note at the end of sentences when we’re asking a question. For example, [demonstrating] “Honey, did the kids get their homework done?”

Upspeak, also known as rising inflection, uptalk, Valley Girl regionalism, or high rising intonation, is when we use that same question-like intonation of raising our pitch at the end of the sentence before a question mark and then apply it to sentences that are not questions. For example: [Demonstrating] The weather’s really nice today. I love my dog.

Now that we all understand the terminology, here’s a summary of the news coverage. Upspeak has been portrayed in the media as a speaking style used mostly by people under forty and according to Bloomberg, “It’s often associated with Disney Channel-loving tweens and Valley Girls, and dismissed as a marker of immaturity and airheadedness.” Forbes Magazine was a bit less harsh but still cautionary when it discussed the negative impact of upspeak on your career and NPR dedicated an entire interview segment to it.

If upspeak is really as damaging as these news outlets allege, why is it used so frequently? A New York Times article responds that it’s trendy while others, like the BBC, say it’s a subconscious habit.

In my assertion, this coverage has overlooked the fact that upspeak does not exist in just one variation. In fact, there are two! In one version, the speaker can sound hesitant and uneducated. But the second version enables the speaker to appear engaging, interesting, and confident. 

This media coverage has unfairly banished both versions of upspeak to the same blacklist. But I don’t want you to do the same thing and as a result, renounce the powerful, useful version of upspeak.

Let me show you the difference between the two variations of upspeak.

The first and most infamous version of upspeak I refer to as “slide.”  Slide upspeak is the version starring in headlines and implied in the anti-upspeak warnings. It’s when you take the last syllable of the word before a comma or a period and you attach it to a big, upward-sliding pitch.

Here’s what using slide upspeak at the breakfast table sounds like: [demonstrates] “I’m running late. I’m not even that hungry. I’ll just grab a snack on the way.”

Slide upspeak is the stereotypical speaking style of Valley Girls. Personally, I grew up in the San Fernando Valley where Frank Zappa’s daughter, Moon Unit Zappa, was the poster child for this kind of speaking regionalism and that’s how it got the nickname “Valley Girl” talk.

Today tons of reality TV stars and “famous for being famous” girls speak the exact same way, loading their sentences with slide upspeak. The transfer effect of using slide upspeak yourself is that your listeners might judge you as being obsessed with reality TV, consumed with trendiness, or uncertain of your own intelligence.

So if you catch yourself or your loved ones using slide upspeak, I’ll add my name to the list of experts suggesting that you stop.

Where the media storm and I part ways is in regards to

the second version of upspeak.

Instead of slide upspeak, I suggest you adopt what I call “stair-step upspeak.”

In the stair-step upspeak style, the last syllable before a comma or a period is still attached to a higher pitch but it doesn’t slide up to that note. Instead, the pitch ascends progressively, as if you were walking up a staircase one step at a time.

Here’s an example of what stair-step upspeak would sound like at breakfast. [demonstrates stair-step upspeak] “I’m running late. I’m not even that hungry. I’ll just grab a snack on the way.”

What makes stair-step upspeak so effective is the way it creates a melody that communicates to listeners that you still have more to say and you’re enthusiastic, not uncertain. The step-by-step increase in pitch is also more pleasing to the ear than slide upspeak and makes the speaker appear more interesting and passionate. Furthermore, this version of upspeak can be an advantageous tool to communicate energy and confidence throughout your sentences while dissuading people from interrupting you.

No respectable music critic would conclude that, “all songs that end on a higher note are bad.” Yet the upspeak media discussion seems to have done exactly that by effectively blacklisting both upspeak variations, even the advantageous one.

I firmly support the research revealing how little the words we speak matter at all. Instead, the sounds our voices make in combination with the words—the pitch, pace, tone, melody and volume—are much more important. That’s why eliminating all melodies that go up at the end is an unwise recommendation. A more sensible approach is to recognize which melodies are effective and practice them.

Slide upspeak can make you sound insecure and uncertain. By contrast, stair-step upspeak can fill your sentences with an uplifting melody and make you sound more interesting and creative to your listeners.

What I’ve shown you today will help you in two big ways.

First, you can be a more educated listener and speaker the next time you encounter an upspeak article in the news. Second, you can bring stair-step upspeak back into your sentences and showcase how creative and passionate you are to everyone listening.

Play around with the two variations of upspeak—slide and stair-step—I’ve given you today and see the difference for yourself! Then tell me what feedback you received in the comments or @RogerLove1.

If this sounds like you, a great voice can be your solution. Start your effective, fun and impactful voice coaching right now!

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