Wednesday, 14 June 2006


No, nothing to do with hormones; as Damon Runyon would say, that is not such a topic as I am wishing to give the large hallo to.

It is evidence of the prevalence of the High Rising Terminal that this is the first of the ten meanings of these three letters listed by Wikipedia. Hampton Roads Transit, Hrvatska Radiotelevizija and the others need not detain us because it is the High Rising Terminal that is by far the most interesting of the ten, unless you are postmenopausal, transgendered, an inhabitant of Virginia, or deeply involved in Croatian broadcasting.

I didn’t know, until I read a review of Anne Karpf’s new book The Human Voice, that this HRT is the technical name for a rising intonation at the end of a sentence—“upspeak”, or “uptalk”.

Apparently it is uncertain where it originated or is most commonly used: Sydney? Southern California? Bristol? Northern Ireland?—but it was noted as early as World War II in Australia, New Zealand and England. And the sort of people who use it most?—teenagers, women, fans of Australian soaps… oh, and people in rural North Dakota and Minnesota who have come under the influence of the Norwegian language (how's that again?).

And various functions for it have been suggested: it may encourage the addressee to participate in the conversation, or it may exhibit the speaker’s insecurities about the statement; but recently it has been shown that assertive speakers (peer group leaders) are more likely to use HRT than junior members of the group since it indicates that the speaker is not finished yet, and thus perhaps discourages interruption. Which of these accounts for George W Bush’s extensive use of it is uncertain.

This speech habit is unattractive and misleading. Now that is a clear and resolute declaration: apply HRT to the last word and it becomes a feeble query, inviting the response: "No it isn't".


Tony said...

Cal: Lots of people I know now do this all the time. This is your field, sort of. Do you have any thoughts on it?

PerfectlyVocal said...

Indeed I do! Rsing intonation at the end of a sentence is a more feminine trait. When I worked with clients undergoing gender re-assignment, it was a technique I taught - the bald generalisation is that men make statements and women ask questions. I could write a thesis here, but wont - mainly due to lack of space. However, it was incredibly irritating when applied to every sentence! My youngest daughter returned from 3 months in Australia with just the same inflection; incredibly annoying. Oh, so many thoughts and so little space?

Tony said...

Thank you very much, Cal, that is indeed interesting. In the fairly detailed Wikipedia piece that I gave a link to there are only a couple of casual mentions of HRT's association with gender.
But now I realise that most of the people I hear using it are in fact female.
What a pity you don't have time to write more. Nothing to do with space—I've had comments running into several thousand words.

Ruth said...

For the Minnesota connection, see the film 'Fargo'. Frances Dormand (?)does it perfectly.
Many people are of Norwegian descent in that part of the world.
HRT can also be detected in the Canadian 'eh?'added on to many of their sentences.
Sorry to come in on this discussion so late, but I have been away.

Tony said...

One of my favourite films. Can't say I noticed the lovely Frances McDormand (or Norwegians) HRT-ing, but no doubt you're right.
I have noticed it from my Canadian relations (by marriage).