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Like, you know? Right?

April 13, 2008 yeah, I, like, I, I’m doing these interviews for a class, right? And I, and after I interview people, I’m interviewing people on the role of religion in their lives and then I have to transcribe the interviews and I can’t, well, I can’t blog about the contents of the interviews, you know, because I didn’t get informed, informed consent for that, you know? And transcribing, [laugh], transcribing is probably my least favorite part of the research, of the research process. But it has to be done, you know?

Enough of that. Please Darwin, let it end. The truth is, though, that we speak very differently than we write. We don’t actually speak in sentences, and if we did it would seem strange and stilted. We don’t actually speak in discrete words, either. Listen to someone speaking a language you don’t understand and you’ll find yourself unable to recognize where one word ends and another begins. English is no different, we can just recognize the words because we know them, but we don’t actually say whole and complete words, rather we slur them into each other., we have these strange linguistic tics, my wife had a teacher once who referred to them as word whiskers. You never realize how often people say things like “You know?” or “Right?” in conversation until it falls on you to listen to these conversations and transcribe them. Everyone does it, unlike “like” which seems to be a bit of a generational thing. “You know?” and “like” have different uses, though, the latter being just another form of “um” or “uh,” to take up space while thinking of the next thing to say, while the former (along with “right?”) is almost another, less annoying version of uptalk.

Oh, uptalk. You know what I’m talking about. Listen to an amateur lecturer, like a class presentation, and there will always be someone, or more someones than not, who end speak each sentence as a question: “So, Marx wrote Capital in 1867? And in it he talks about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat? And the bourgeoisie are the rich people who own the factories and the proletariat are the workers?” This has the effect of making the speaker sound unsure and like they’re asking for approval or agreement. Women do it more than men, making women sound more and more like they don’t know what they’re talking about even if the content of their sentences is correct. So, the moral of this tangent is “Don’t Do It. Say No To Uptalk.”, I think that “you know?” and “right?” serve some of the same purposes of uptalk (getting your listener to identify with you, letting your listener know that you aren’t done talking so please don’t cut you off, and making sure your listener is following you and still paying attention) without as much of the “I don’t know what I’m talking about so I’m going to avoid declarative sentences” vibe of uptalk. It’s more of a “This is what I believe, do you understand? I had this experience, have you?”

Of course, as the interviewer, I have my own annoying tics, primarily “Oh, that’s cool,” “Cool,” “Yeah,” and “Wow, that’s cool.” As the interviewer, though, we aren’t here to talk about me. So, what religion do you identify with? That’s cool, can you tell me more about it?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2008 4:51 am

    Hmmm, Uptalk. I never heard it called that before. I suppose it’s from the rising intonation. I’ve heard it called AQI or CQI – Australian Question Intonation or Californian Question Intonation.

    Incidentally, if you want to hear a version of this rising intonation that sounds whiny rather than inquisitive, you should visit the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland.

    Anyway. Thanks for the new word.

  2. April 17, 2008 7:48 am

    AQI – so you mean Australia’s got it too? We’re doomed. I think the technical term for it is HRT (High Rise Terminals), but I’ve also heard that HRT and uptalk aren’t exactly the same. Who would have thought that there’s so much to learn on this irritating little intonation?

  3. May 17, 2008 11:41 pm

    I think most Australians (particularly women) talk with the high rise terminal. It is awful. You are so right in that we don’t speak as we right. I wish I was as articulate in my oration as I can be in my writing!

  4. May 17, 2008 11:42 pm

    Oh, and I qualify my previous comment regarding Australians and the HRT with the fact that I am Australian!

  5. drew permalink
    June 1, 2008 3:23 am

    “Women do it more than men, making women sound more and more like they don’t know what they’re talking about even if the content of their sentences is correct”

    I’d say a society based on patriarchal values is responsible for this more than anything, rather than the intonation women especially(apparently) have.
    The sexism of men may be what makes women ‘sound’ like they don’t know what they are talking about,

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