Maybe I’m being too harsh? I can’t see? So it’s possible I rely too heavily on the way things sound? I’m walking down the street? Or sitting at our local tavern? Hackneys? And people around me talk? As if they aren’t sure what they’re saying? They ask questions? But never pause for an answer?
By now you’ve all experienced this upspeak phenomenon, but Tuesday’s Fresh Air interview on NPR gave me a new perspective on it all. Terry Gross interviewed Susan Sankin, one of the voice experts featured in a new documentary called Do I Sound Gay? The film was produced by David Thorpe, a gay man who had a problem with his voice — he thought it sounded annoying and stereotypically gay. Thorpe narrates the film, which follows him as he looks for insights and advice from experts and talks to gay friends about his voice and their voices. He also talks to several gay people with very familiar voices, including David Sedaris, Tim Gunn and Dan Savage.
In the interview Terry Gross asked Thorpe and Sankin, a language and speech pathologist, what they thought were the distinctive qualities of the “gay voice.” Their answers:
- dentalizing the “S” sound
- hanging onto vowels
“Upspeak is that tendency to kind of speak in that way where you’re going up makes your voice sound a little bit musical,” Sankin said. “I think that’s what people associate with a gay sound to some degree.” From the interview:
GROSS: So you’re hearing that more in men and women, and in girls and boys? SANKIN: The upspeak, definitely. Initially when I heard it, it was among younger women. It seems now, though, that men have caught on as well. It’s just across the genders, it’s across age categories, and it’s become as contagious as the common cold.
Sankin explained how she had filmmaker David Thorpe read the Gettysburg Address so he’d understand and hear how much more authoritative and assertive he’d sound if he didn’t speak that way. She said upspeak makes people sound very immature and very unsure of themselves. Four Score? And seven years ago? Our forefathers Brought forth? On this continent? A new nation? Conceived in Liberty? “It’s almost as if they’re asking for approval.”
And so, just for fun, let’s end by rewriting my first paragraph with more declarative punctuation. Tell me how it sounds.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. I can’t see, so it’s possible I rely too heavily on the way things sound. I’m walking down the street, or sitting at our local tavern, Hackney’s, and people around me talk as if they aren’t sure what they’re saying. They ask questions, but never pause for an answer.