Date: Mon, 23 Oct 1995 13:15:57 -0400


Subject: Re: statements spoken as if it were a question

I noticed the same rising intonation for statements from several students

during their seminar paper presentations last spring (both male and female), so

I checked with a colleague who teaches several sections of public address, and

she reports that it is quite common among both sexes. She argues that it occurs

most frequently with students who are hesitant or lack confidence in their

presentation (or perhaps a signal of deference), but I suspect that this is the

effect rather than the cause.

i catch myself doing this while lecturing. now, this is a time when

i know what i'm doing and am confident. but i think the reason why i

do it is to try to keep peoples' attention. the times i've caught

myself doing it, i've been lecturing here to (all female, in many

cases) undergraduates, who have no qualms about having their own

conversations while the lecture is going on. so i guess i'm trying

to grate on their nerves? or get them involved in what i'm saying?

the fact that it's associated with women's speech reminds me of a

couple of things i've recently been lecturing on (so i'll subject

you to them too):

women use "y'know" a lot more than men. (that is to say, american

women. "y'know" is here considered to be one of the most annoying

things that americans do in speech.) this would go with the

observation already made that the rising intonation is an attempt to

involve the audience in the spkr's statements by looking for (or

assuming) solidarity on the matter.

perhaps this is related to women's question-asking habits. women ask

a lot more questions than men (i think it was fishman's study that

showed three times as many). but a lot of that question-asking isn't

so much information-seeking as conversational-ball-rolling.

furthermore, in mixed-sex conversations, women _have_ to ask

questions, because otherwise their topics are not picked up. in

fishman's study of couples, virtually all mens' topic introductions

are successful, vs. 36% for women. _but_ when women introduce topics

with questions, their success rate goes up to 72%.

granted, this doesn't account for why people do whole monologues

"upspeaking" the end of every sentence, clause, and sometimes smaller

pieces. (e.g., "i was at the gap? at the mall?") but it does seem

to me to be a way of making sure that the audience is coming along

for the ride with you.

then again, since the rising intonation may be associated with the

end of a turn, and since women expect (friendly) interruption and

positive minimal responses and the like, perhaps this rising is

offering places for such responses.

most of the things i mention here are pretty related. sorry for the

stream-of-consciousness style. my self-editing skills are at an end-

of-the-day low.