Rising intonation

High rising terminal

The High Rising Terminal (HRT), also known as uptalk, upspeak or High Rising Intonation (HRI), is a feature of some accents of English where statements have a rising intonation pattern in the final syllable or syllables of the utterance. Empirically, Ladd (1996, pg 123) proposes that HRT in American English and Australian English is marked by a high tone (high pitch or high fundamental frequency) beginning on the final accented syllable near the end of the statement (the terminal), and continuing to increase in frequency (up to 40%) to the end of the intonational phrase. New research such as that conducted by Warren (2005) suggests that the actual rise can occur one or more syllables after the last accented syllable of the phrase, and its range is much more variable than previously thought.


The origins of HRT remain uncertain. Geographically, anecdotal evidence places the conception of the American English variety on the West Coast – anywhere from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest.

With respect to the southern hemisphere, Allan (1990) suggested that the feature may have originated in New Zealand.

It is unclear whether the American English varieties and the Oceanic varieties had any influence on each other regarding the spread of HRT.


In the United States, the phenomenon of HRT may be fairly recent but is an increasingly common characteristic of speech especially among younger speakers (see Ching, 1982 for one of the few accounts of HRT in American English). However, serious scientific/linguistic inquiry on this topic has a much more extensive history in linguistic journals from Australia, New Zealand, and Britain where HRT seems to have been noted as early as World War II.

In Sydney, it is used over twice as often by young generations as by older ones, and particularly by women (Guy et al, 1986). It has been suggested that the HRT has a facilitative function in conversation (i.e., it encourages the addressee to participate in the conversation), and such functions are more often used by women. It also subtly indicates that the speaker is "not finished yet", thus perhaps discouraging interruption (Allen, 1990; Guy et al, 1986; Warren, 2005). Although its use is also suggestive of seeking assurance from the listener that he is aware of what the speaker is referring to.

It has also been noted in speech patterns heard in areas of Canada and in Cape Town, the Falkland Islands, and the United States, where it is often associated with a particular sociolect that originated among affluent teenage girls in Southern California (see Valspeak and Valley girl). Elsewhere in the United States, this intonation is characteristic of the speech heard in those parts of rural North Dakota and Minnesota that through migration have come under the influence of the Norwegian language.

Although it is ridiculed in Britain as 'Australian Questioning Intonation' and blamed on the popularity of Australian soap operas among teenagers, HRT is also a feature of several UK regional dialects, particularly those of Bristol, East Anglia and Northern Ireland. It is frequently heard in some Irish accents. It forms a significant part of what is known as the "DORT" accent. This is a satirising phonetic pronunciation of the train line (DART) which runs through the better off suburbs of Dublin where the accent is most prevalent as an accent bearer would say it. This and many other trends in middle class Ireland have been satirised in depth for years in the fictional "Ross O'Carroll-Kelly" diaries written by journalist Paul Howard and published in book form. The diarist uses such terms as , "Roysh", right pronounced in a male DORT accent, "Mare", short for nightmare. The female characters also tend to use the Valspeak listed above with the frequent addition of "O.M.G.", Oh my God.


HRT has often been called 'questioning intonation', but this term is not generally used by linguists as not all utterances that are questions have rising intonation. In fact, most sentences using a Wh-interrogative rise and then fall at the end.

Although several personalities in the popular media in Australia, Britain, and the United States have negatively portrayed the usage of HRT, claiming that its use is exhibiting a speaker's insecurities about the statement, more recent evidence (McLemore, 1991; Cheng et al, 2005; Warren, 2005) shows that assertive speakers, leaders of the peer group are more likely to use HRT in their declaratives than the junior members of the particular peer group. According to University of Pennsylvania phonologist Mark Liberman, George W. Bush has begun to use HRT extensively in his more recent speeches.

References in Popular Culture

  • In the Family Guy episode Whistle While Your Wife Works, Stewie refers to Brian's idiotic girlfriend as talking "like this. You know, where everything has a question mark at the end of it. With an upward inflection."
  • Stephen Fry successfully banished this manner of speech to Room 101 in the BBC TV series referring to it as Australian Question Intonation (AQI).


  • Allan, S., "The rise of New Zealand intonation" in A. Bell & J. Holmes (eds.) New Zealand ways of Speaking English, pp. 115–128 (Clevendon: Multilingual Matters, 1990). ISBN 1-85359-083-5
  • Ching, M. (1982). "The question intonation in assertions", American Speech, 57 (1982), pp. 95–107 ISSN 0003-1283
  • Cheng, W. and M. Warren (2005) "//CAN i help you //: The use of rise and rise-fall tones in the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English", International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 10 (1), pp. 85–107 ISSN 1384-6655
  • Guy, G., Horvath, B., Vonwiller, J., Daisley, E. and Rogers, I., "An intonation change in progress in Australian English", Language in Society 15 (1986), pp. 23–52 ISSN 0047-4045
  • Ladd, David R., Intonational phonology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-521-47498-1
  • McLemore, C. A., "The Pragmatic Interpretation of English Intonation: Sorority Speech", Dissertation Abstracts International A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 52 (4), 1991, pp. 1311–A.
  • Warren, P., "Patterns of late rising in New Zealand English: Intonational variation or intonation change?", Language Variation and Change, 17 (2005), pp. 209–230 ISSN 0954-3945
  • Howard, Paul., "The miseducation years" ISBN 0-86278-852-8, "P.S. I scored the bridesmaids ISBN 0-86278-890-0, The teenage dirtbag years ISBN 0-86278-849-8, Ross O'Carroll Kelly

See also

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