Friday, May 27, 2011

He went, like, you know, "That's the way, you know, I kind of, like, speak."

Recently, I was interviewed, and after the person thanked me, she said I had made her job easier by not inserting a lot of superfluous words into my answers. Huh. I didn't realize that was true, for I tend to think of myself as somewhat incoherent.  I don't say "like" or "you know," and I've been making a conscious effort to say "I" instead of "you" in my speech.* That's a pet peeve of mine. When folks say, for instance, "When you get yelled at, you feel bad, " I think, "Are you saying everyone feels this way, are you referring to me personally, or do you mean that, indeed, you feel bad? If the latter is true, perhaps it would more useful to you if you owned your own feelings by using the correct pronoun." Yes, I do think that, and it comes up a lot. It irks me, and I do think that people distance themselves from their feelings by not using the the word "I' when speaking about themselves. If one is generalizing, the word "one" is correct to use, though I would venture to guess that people think this sounds "elitist," verging on  sounding like the use of the Royal We.

I speak exactly the same way  I write. My writing, as you probably can guess, is merely a transcription of my thoughts. What I didn't realize is that my speaking is the same. Hmmm.

This brings me to actual transcription, which I've been doing a little bit of in recent months. I have to admit I've been appalled by the way highly educated people speak. Folks have made fun of Sarah Palin, but the truth is, at least judging from the transcription I've been doing, most people speak as poorly as she does or worse. The transcriptions of interviews one reads in magazines, newspapers, and, now, on the Web, have been heavily edited.

The only - only - person whom I've transcribed in recent memory who has spoke clearly was a man who was at least seventy years old. He was probably schooled in learning to speak clearly. We seem to no longer do this.

When I was very young, my mother corrected me when I used the word "like." My father told me time and again that slang was a sloppy way of communicating and thinking. Though my parents' admonitions annoyed me, I'm now quite grateful for them.

I'm in the midst of transcribing an interview right now, and I needed a break. Transcribing sentences that have almost no structure is slow going, and I start to become confused, and even a bit ticked off, because most of the people I'm transcribing are authority figures for whom communication is part of their job. When a person inserts "you know" and "like" before and after every third word, it's hard to keep track of the logic of the sentence. Additionally, using the word "you" instead of "I," which seems quite common, is confusing in print. Using the word "go" or "went" instead of of "say" and "said" is even more confusing. Are you confused? Here's an example that I've made up (for clarity, and to protect the guilty and innocent alike):

I was, like, y'know, thinking it over, and I went, "Hey, wait a minute. I, like, didn't know." You know, when we go like "It's hard to understand this stuff," you know, it's like a rough thing. My brother, he said, you know, he like went "I kind of found it hard, too," and like, I sort of found some, you know, like, some sort of kind of comfort in that, you know, idea. My parents were like relieved and my mother went "I'm happy. I'm happy that you know finally like you know found yourself."

That is typical of the people I've been transcribing.

If you had trouble figuring it out, here's what it would look like after it had been edited for clarity:

I was thinking it over and I said to myself, "I don't know." When one thinks "It's hard to understand this stuff," it's rough.  My brother said, "I found it hard, too." I found some comfort in that. My parents were relieved. My mother said, "I'm happy. I'm happy that you found yourself."

That made sense, and the person interviewed sounds intelligent, but that is not what was said. I think it's important to note that. When we listen to a person who speaks in this way, we filter out all the "garbage words," but shouldn't we know how to speak without using them?

I know I sound, like, old-fashioned. Sloppy speaking habits have been the bugaboo of the older generation for generations. However, I'd venture to guess that for at least one generation, most parents and teachers have stopped correcting, for they don''t know any other way to communicate. This is how language changes. Perhaps it doesn't make any difference if we speak this way or not. That's an interesting question, and I do not know the answer.

*I was also told I didn't say "um," which surprised me. I know I used to say "um" frequently, and mentioned this. I was told that I'm quiet when I'm obviously thinking of what to say. This explained for me why some people get frustrated with me. I've been told to "hurry up," or have had people get angry with me for not being quick enough in my responses. Why does one have to be so fast? Isn't it better to consider what one's answer is? Recently, when I didn't answer a question fast enough, it was perceived that I didn't want to do something. This couldn't have been further from the truth. I realized that the person who had jumped to that conclusion makes all sorts of guesses about what he believes I'm thinking when I'm not fast enough on the draw verbally. Oh my. People do not like silence. They also want everything right now. Sorry, but Julie brand ATM does not work all that quickly.

Image note: I rather liked this image, which I saw on the website for the Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute.


Raft said...

Anyway, Julie, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog(s). So far, you've inspired me to listen to myself speak and think and write; ride the knitting wave; and post Comments when I have them. I look forward, to, uh, you know, joining the, um, what's the word . . . conversation.


Julie H. Rose said...

Sally, thanks for leaving a comment!

I know from Google analytics that just as many people are reading this blog as were in the past, but hardly anyone leaves comments these days, which is a loss. I miss the "conversations"that used to happen between folks who don't know each other in real life. So, to those of you have a response, write something!

I'm glad, Sally, that I've inspired you in any way. That's gratifying.

Anonymous said...

That was , like, really, like, right-on! While reading this, and all your other posts, I am always like, "No way! That is such, like, really good writing, and all insightful, prescient, articulate and what not!" Seriously, I like say that kind of stuff....

Anonymous said...

Plus, like, I think your brave to like put yourself out there. Like, I have similar thoughts and stuff, but am way too timid to like "own it."

Anonymous said...

P.S. It's quite a challenge to know where to punctuate when writing as some speak.

Anonymous said...

dear julie, you are totally right. I'm a tesol teacher and it's really hard for me to teach clear speaking when it doesn't exist in real speeches. In Italy we use a lot of bridge words too when we speak , and when my students speak english they use the italian bridge words to take time...I try to correct them by teaching to take a pause, but it's really hard and sometimes I am compelled to teach them to say ...well you know...ciao Paola