Most descriptions of uptalk – both academic and lay – are based on impressionistic analyses. That is, they describe the general shape or auditory impression of the intonation pattern. Usually this is with reference to the extent of the pitch rise associated with the uptalk, sometimes including an indication of the timing of this rise relative to the text over which it is produced. Both of these aspects are captured in the working definition of uptalk introduced in Chapter 1, which referred to ‘a marked rising intonation pattern found at the ends of intonation units’. In addition, some descriptions attempt to define uptalk by comparing or contrasting it with the intonation contours typically associated with other sentence types. In this chapter we will first consider this relationship of uptalk utterances with other sentence types, before then looking in more detail at the forms of uptalk that have been discussed in the literature. This will involve consideration both of descriptions of the phonetic detail of uptalk and of the position that the uptalk pattern holds in the set of intonational tunes constituting the intonational phonology of a language.
It will necessarily be the case that the descriptions we encounter are dependent on the variety of English under scrutiny. Just as the dress vowel has a different phonetic quality in British English from that in New Zealand English (where it is closer to the pronunciation of the British kit vowel) and Canadian English (where it can be more like the British English trap vowel), so too the realisation of a single intonational feature can vary from variety to variety (see Warren, 2005a and other articles in the same volume). Although variation of this type exists in the forms of uptalk across varieties, there are commonalities, and this chapter will conclude with a summary of the key features that are shared by uptalk in varieties of English.
To a certain extent, the shapes of uptalk are reflected in the labels used to refer to them. Yet even in discussion by linguists there is some uncertainty or ambiguity in the use of the labels. As we saw in Chapter 1, the label high-rising terminal is ambiguous as to whether the contour is a high contour that rises (from a high starting point) or a contour that rises to a high finishing position (from a starting point that could in fact be low).