uptalk or high rising terminals is an intonation pattern where declarative statements occur with yes/no question intonation.
“It is used when the speaker is establishing common ground with the listener as the basis for the conversation, and when the speaker is seeking silent affirmation or some factor that would otherwise require explanation before the conversation could continue.”
– – (J.K.Chambers, Language Myths, Penguin Books, 1998.)
e.g. Our high-school class is doing an experiment on genetics?
Uptalk has spread to virtually all English speaking countries in the world and its uses have spread to contexts where the pragmatics are not quite so clear:
e.g. “Hello, my name is Christopher?”
I’ve never come into contact with someone who uses that pattern of speech. For this reason I ask: is it possible to distinguish uptalk from a real question or is the intonation used identical?
Quantitative measurements of pitch excursion in stressed vowels among speakers with high rising terminals suggest that even in Southern California the excursions for declarative sentences are smaller in magnitude than those for questions or requests for confirmation. (Google: high rising terminal excursion).
In other words, distinguishing them is a matter of degree. For an unknown speaker with a very short fragment of speech it may not be possible, but in conversation I have personally never had an issue distinguishing these intonations after a short time adapting. It’s not unique in that regard: the position of vowels in various dialects differs enormously, but is soon accommodated in extended conversation.