August 7, 2012

A while back, I railed on at some length at what I referred to as “Canada’s singular most annoying contribution” to modern times: political correctness. In the company of Sweden, the Netherlands, and a few other egregious offenders, my homeland has served as standard bearer in this relentless charge toward inoffensiveness at all costs, all the while exasperating the tiny minority of right-thinking Canadians, and pretty much everyone else in the world as well.

But perhaps I spoke too soon; possibly, political correctness is not Canada’s signature social achievement. For in recent years, a hitherto Canadian-only phenomenon known as “uptalk” has migrated south of the border, and is making inroads wherever Canadians travel (i.e., basically everywhere; I ran into at least three Canadians for every American while traveling in Southeast Asia earlier this year). What is “uptalk”, you might ask (as I might well have asked just a short while ago my own self). Well, it is that heinous speech pattern that shapes declarative sentences into  interrogatives, with a rising vocal intonation toward the end, virtually demanding a response from the ill-starred listener, who would otherwise sit quietly until the story was finished.

An example:

Canadian Youngster (heretofore referred to as “CY”: “So, I was going to the supermarket earlier today?”

Me (in my best approximation of mild interest): “Were you?”

CY: “And I was in the cookie aisle?”

Me: “Were you indeed?”

CY: “And I couldn’t find the ginger snaps?”

Me: “Really?

CY: “And so I asked the box boy if he knew where I could find some?”

Me: “That seems like a logical thing to do, I guess…”

CY (mildly irked): “You know, if you keep on interrupting me, I am never going to finish this story.”

Me: (responseless; for the first time in the conversation, CY has not posed a question, and I am completely at a loss for something to say)

And so it goes.

Naturally, it was incumbent upon me to have a brief look around the internet to see what nifty intelligence might be found about uptalk, and I unearthed several prime nuggets. It seems the scientific name for this abysmal trait is HRT, or “high rising terminal”. It is also known as “upspeak”, “rising inflection”, or “HRI” (“high rising intonation”). Variants of uptalk can be found here and there around the world: New Zealand/Australia the Falklands; Great Britain (where they refer to it somewhat derisively as AQI, or Australian Question Intonation); and of course, Southern California, where Val-speak has been a component of the lexicon for the better part of a generation. Still, I blame Canada, which has for decades offered up an especially obnoxious musicality in its variant, which occupies some strange netherworld where Irish folk ditties blend seamlessly (albeit not the least bit euphoniously) with Moon Zappa moonologues.

At the end of the day, about the only good thing one (by which I mean “I”) can say about Canadian uptalk is that it seems to have largely supplanted the final “eh?” in everyday conversation. And that can’t be all bad…eh?