A way of speaking, synonymous with the movie Clueless and a certain breed of American material girl, is catching on and spreading to men, researchers say.
“Uptalk” or “Valley Girl Speak” is marked by a rise in pitch at the ends of sentences.
It is typically associated with young women from southern California, notably Clueless lead character Cher Horowitz.
Uptalkers are stereotypically parodied as insecure, shallow and not very clever.
Scientists investigating the phenomenon recorded the voices of about two dozen young southern Californians, half male and half female.
They were given several speech tasks, such as providing directions from a map, or recounting what happened after watching a clip from a popular sitcom.
“We found use of uptalk in all of our speakers, despite their diverse backgrounds in socio-economic status, ethnicity, bilingualism and gender,” study leader Dr Amanda Ritchart, a linguist at the University of California, San Diego, said.
The research identified a crucial difference between uptalkers making a statement and asking a question.
In a statement, the rise in pitch began significantly later.
But the difference was so subtle that non-uptalkers often missed it, according to Professor Amalia Arvaniti, formerly at the University of California, San Diego, and now at the University of Kent.
“Our study busts the stereotype associated with uptalk that those who speak uptalk actually ask questions instead of make statements, a tendency that is supposed to be linked to insecurity,” Prof Arvaniti said.
“But native southern California speakers know the difference based on the exact location of the rise start, and the extent to which pitch changes in the rise.”
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco.