A popular conception that women use a question intonation more often than men is usually attributed to linguist Robin Lakoff. This has not been substantiated by research: Graddol and Swann's Gender Voices (1989) questions both the prevalence of this habit in women's speech as well as the interpretation of the question intonation as a sign of hesitancy.
However, the concept continues to crop up in popular culture. In an episode of Family Guy (2006), a female character is mocked for her rising inflection, although Mark Liberman (writing in Language Log, 2006) points out that the mocking fails to use a rising inflection. Another example is writer Jason Horowitz's characterization of "The Affect" in the New York Observer (2006). This rant described a female vocal style using this inflection, but Language Log again questioned the conclusions in pieces by both Zimmer (2006) and Liberman (2006).
I was reminded of this (admittedly cobwebby) story again because of a recent Family Guy bringing back the Jillian (voice by Drew Barrymore), who still ends her sentences with a question mark. Observer bias sucks. I am incredibly aware of the use of qualifying and tentative habits in my own speech because it was pointed out to me as a female habit to avoid when I was no more than 11 years old. It seems like Lakoff's (and Deborah Tannen's) communications work gets brought up to me all the time, but I suspect that's observer bias again. Unfortunately, the problem is that these things seem only to be noticed when they're brought up, and they're self-confirming, as with many gender stereotypes. They seem true when pointed out, and become more true the more people who know about them. It makes me exceptionally grateful for Language Log for putting a lot more depth into their posts than I've ever been able to get into DB.
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