Friday, February 15, 2013

Good Talkers Are the Worst Talkers

So apparently some people thought/think that


Peter Elbow:

People who care about good language tend to assume that casual spoken language is full of chaos and error. I shared this belief till I did some substantial research into the linguistics of speech. There’s a surprising reason why we — academics and well-educated folk — should hold this belief: we are the greatest culprits. It turns out that our speech is the most incoherent. Who knew that working class speakers handle spoken English better than academics and the well-educated?
The highest percentage of well-formed sentences are found in casual speech, and working-class speakers use more well-formed sentences than middle-class speakers. The widespread myth that most speech is ungrammatical is no doubt based upon tapes made at learned conferences, where we obtain the maximum number of irreducibly ungrammatical sequences. (Labov 222. See also Halliday 132.)
(via Sully)

Ok, here's th deal:

First, I'm guilty, often, when speaking--and here I mean for the universe of discourse to be those times when I'm talking about philosophy or policy or something of that sort, rather than, say, about taking out the trash--and sometimes when writing, too, of qualifying my main claims so extensively that it's hard to glean the main point (or points, of course, in cases in which I have more than one), bogged down as they are in baroque linguistic epicycles. Or something.

But:

This isn't the only reason people, er, talk bad in academia. Hell, people talk bad on the news, too. Even mere pundits, who usually aren't saying anything terribly complicated. So I'm not just talking about academicians who happen to be on the News Hour. Even the talking heads are bad about this stuff.

My long-held view is that a lot of this is caused by the fact that people try to sound smarter than they actually are. Or, to be perhaps more precise (but perhaps not): they try to sound as if their facility with the language is greater than it actually is. What happens, IMHO, is that people start these long sentences, using convoluted, overly-complex syntax of a kind they'd not normally use, and containing words that they don't really have complete command of...and then...halfway through these sentences, which are already laden with all sorts of...freaking...subordinate clauses...and...buttcrap....they realize that they don't know how to resolve the bloody things, grammatically speaking. So they switch horses in the middle of the card game, and the things end up being ungrammatical as hell.

If people are just speaking normally, this stuff happens less frequently.

Anyway, that's my $0.02.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The federal government has started a Plain Language initiative to address some of this problem. http://www.plainlanguage.gov/

7:33 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'll be damned.

8:09 AM  

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