This is a declarative sentence?

In today's fast-paced linguistic world, it may very well be.A new syndrome, formally known as "intonational rise," informally called "uptalk," is seeping into spoken American English, leaving middle-class teens and young adults ending declarative sentences like questions even if nothing has been asked.

Satirists and academics are paying attention.

"People are noticing it all around the country," says Cynthia McLemore, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent five years researching intonational rises.

In 1989, McLemore visited a University of Texas sorority and mapped how its members used uptalk.

"I really think it's possible there's some sort of fundamental change in American English going on," McLemore says. "With all these younger speakers who are using this and not realizing it, it's become a default accent."

Some say because declarative sentences are considered assertive, uptalk highlights the insecurity of "Generation X," the post-baby boomers.

"It says, beyond anything else, that `I am a young American person,"' says Don Wadsworth, an expert on accents and dialects who coaches actors and teaches drama at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Others think it's a way to keep a conversation partner's attention in a world full of distractions.

Uptalk is not always well-received, even by those closest to it.

"It is really annoying," says Amy Davis, 21, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. "I noticed it when I started school here, but I didn't realize until now that I do it, too."

Jim Gorman, a New York University journalism professor, speculated recently in The New York Times how literature might have developed had "uptalk" always been around.

Gorman's Moby Dick: "Hi, I'm Ishmael? I'll be your narrator?"

Or Shakespeare: "A horse? A horse? My kingdom for a horse?"

With the nation linked by instantaneous spoken and visual communications, regional quirks such as uptalk can infiltrate the language rapidly.

"There's a national conversation now that everybody's plugged into who wants to be. It's become the national database," said Everette Dennis, executive director of the Freedom Forum on Media Studies in New York.

Uptalk, he says, "has an incompleteness about it, and I think that matches the incompleteness of the national conversation today."

President Bush's tentative tone made uptalk familiar. His sing-song style in phrases such as "wouldn't be prudent" and "the American people" became staples for impressionist Dana Carvey on "Saturday Night Live."

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McLemore hasn't isolated uptalk's causes. In her research in Texas, she found the sorority women overwhelmingly used rises to introduce new information to a group.

"It functions a lot like a gesture," she says. "It may be like `you know' to make sure attention is being paid - like saying, `Are you still with me?"'

Wadsworth, who helped actor Bob Hoskins shed his British cadence and devised accents for Danny Aiello and Ellyn Burstyn for the movie "Cemetery Club," calls uptalk's effect on conversation "almost generous."

"It throws the ball into the other person's court," Wadsworth says. "But it makes people look insecure, and when they do it constantly, they actually sound vacuous."

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