Functional significance of rising-intonation declaratives in settings with special discursive norms

Michael A. Shepherd


Rising intonation in English declaratives (aka uptalk) is generally regarded as a solidarity marker (Warren 2005). However, its functions in settings with special discursive norms, such as classrooms, remain unexplored. Analysis of third-graders declarative responses to teachers questions reveals that students use rising intonation when they anticipate rejection, arguably making it a pragmatic face-saving strategy (Goffman 1982). Specifically, rising intonation functions as a marker of idea positioning (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 2003), lessening students commitment to responses they suspect are incorrect. It also deemphasizes such responses being answers to questions while emphasizing their being presented for teacher evaluation.

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