Upspeaking: It’s truly a disturbing trend?

April 7, 2014 

The first thing one learns in journalism school is the communication channel … sender at one end, receiver at the other. The message passes through the channel on its way from the sender to the receiver, and anything that gets in the way of the message is considered noise.

Noise in the channel might be the way the message is being transmitted. It can be incorrect grammar, redundancy, poor word choice, and even distracting voice mannerisms, which brings me to a disturbing new trend in speaking.

I learned early on that the only time the voice should be raised at the end of a sentence is when asking a question. There is, however, an alarming trend for people to raise the voice at the end of a sentence that is not a question. This compromises the integrity of the message by signaling that it’s not a statement.

Listen to Brian Williams deliver the NBC Evening News. He speaks with great authority and never raises his voice at the end of a statement. Raising the voice when you make a statement compromises the message and makes it sound like asking permission; i.e., is it OK for me to say this?

Imagine you’re in a job interview and you’re asked a question. If you answer by raising your voice at the end of a sentence, you will appear uncertain, and uncertainty is not what the interviewers are looking for. Why would they want to hire someone who’s not sure about what she’s saying?

Professor Regina Barreca, University of Connecticut, studying the phenomenon of raising the voice at the end of a sentence that was not a question, dubbed it “upspeak.” Check her out on YouTube.

I do, however, acknowledge that what determines correctness of usage is usage, not some textual authority of what language usage should be. That said, be advised that this is a time of transition, and until those of us who do not raise the voice at the end of a statement die off, we will preach against the evils of upspeak. Raising the voice at the end of a sentence shall be reserved exclusively for questions.

And, you upspeakers need to understand you are giving away your authority and projecting an impression of uncertainty to the person you are addressing when you upspeak.

Tom Foote, Ph.D, is a retired member of the faculty – emeritus, journalism & education, at The Evergreen State College.

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