Special Session: Rising intonation in English and beyond

Rising intonation in English and beyond


  • Meghan Armstrong (UMass Amherst)
  • Page Piccinini (UC San Diego)
  • Amanda Ritchart (UC San Diego)

Over the past years, popular media has become interested in intonational phenomena such as “high rising terminals” (HRTs) and “uptalk”. These related phenomena are quite common to varieties of English (Fletcher, Grabe, & Warren, 2005; Barry, 2007; Ritchart & Arvaniti, 2014), but why is this the case? To our knowledge, few studies have looked across English varieties to identify the commonalities or differences in how rises work, and why they might be so widespread in English (but see Clopper & Smiljanic, 2005; Armstrong, Piccinini, & Ritchart, 2015). What are the phonetic and phonological forms used by different dialects and how similar are they in their pragmatic functions? What are the relevant sociolinguistic factors in the communities using HRTs and uptalk, and what kind of social meaning do they index? For instance, in American English, the popular stereotype is that females use uptalk more than males, but Armstrong, Piccinini & Ritchart (2015) find that male and female college students in Southern California and Massachusetts use declarative rises equally as much. Levon & colleagues (2014) find that in London English, males use HRTs more than females. They find differences in use by ethnicity as well, with South Asian women using HRTs more than Black or White women. We also ask to what extent these phenomena are restricted to English. In fact, there is some anecdotal evidence that such phenomena are indeed not specific to English, and that in other languages, the contour that is often associated with marking questionhood can be used in other pragmatic contexts, where the speaker is not in fact asking a question. This would include languages that encode questions through utterance-final falls, like Majorcan Catalan, for example (Armstrong & Vanrell, in progress).
The goal of this session is to bring together scholars working on the phenomena of HRTs and so-called “uptalk” in varieties of English, but also scholars working on related phenomena in other languages. Some of the central questions to be addressed in this special session will include:

  • What allows us to classify a rise as an HRT or “uptalk”? How can perception tests help us to do this?
  • What methods can we use to disentangle these rises from continuation rises, for example?
  • What experimental methods can we use to determine the function of these phenomena?
  • Are these phenomena restricted to English, or can we find evidence for similar phenomena in other languages? Are there typological motivations?
  • How can these phenomena be explained at the prosody-pragmatics interface?
  • How related are the pragmatic meanings conveyed by rising declaratives to canonical questions? Are there semantic or pragmatic properties that are shared?
  • From a sociolinguistic point of view, why are these phenomena stigmatized in some varieties but not others?
  • To what extent are these phenomena found in the speech of talkers with disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), William’s Syndrome, aphasia, Down’s Syndrome, and other populations that present atypical speech patterns?