Archive for the ‘Speech style’ Category

Tawkin’ the tawk

October 7, 2015

An op-ed piece in the NYT on Monday (the 5th) by my old friend Michael Newman (who professes linguistics at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY) entitled “Voters May Just Want to ‘Tawk’” (in print) and “How a New York Accent Can Help You Get Ahead” (on-line) and beginning:

Their partisans may be loath to admit it, but Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump do in fact share some common ground. There is of course their upstart, outsider image. Then they share a posture of forthrightness and candor. A third similarity is how they talk. Not what they say, but how they sound: Like they’re from New York.

Trump and Sanders

Newman cites the work of Deborah Tannen on conversational style:

New Yorkers tend to have a different conversational style than other Americans. New Yorkers usually favor being more direct. We speak over one another, particularly to show our engagement with what our interlocutor is saying. We like to tell long stories. And we don’t mind arguing as long as it is not too personal.

Back in 2012 I wrote about “Overlapping” in speech and associated stylistic features, citing Tannen on Sonia Sotomayor, referring to

what I’ve called “machine gun style,” the rat-tat-tat impression made on those who expect less directness, slower speech, and longer pauses between turns.

I added:

This high-involvement style is stereotypically associated with New Yorkers and Jews, but is more widespread than that. I use the style myself, in a (usually) muted variant, but didn’t realize that until I moved from the East Coast to the middle of Illinois, where the locals found my speech “rude” and “pushy”. Unsurprisingly, it’s most pronounced when I’m in a conversation with someone (like Tannen herself) who uses the style.

Now back to Newman:

Sociolinguists — scholars of language in society — call the way that forms of speech entail social meanings “indexicality.” A sound or a system of sounds, popularly called an accent, points to or indexes a particular social meaning. A basic example is dropping Rs, saying “coffee” with a raised aw vowel and producing Ts and Ds on the teeth rather than the alveolar ridge behind the teeth, which all index together a New York identity…The New York identity, in the case of a speaker like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, in turn links to stereotypes of New Yorkers that exist in the culture, such as being frank and combative in speech.

… Voters might not want to hear from politicians at all, but for many, a stump speech is, it seems, more palatable in a New York accent.

Two political cartoonists

May 25, 2015

To link to a posting on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, some notes on Watterson’s favorite political / editorial cartoonists, Pat Oliphant and Jim Borgman.



September 9, 2012

Yesterday’s “TV mystery theme song” on local radio station KFJC — identify the show and win movie tickets to the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto — was Al Jarreau’s recording of the theme to “Moonlighting”, which I recognized immediately. I didn’t call in, because I was working on a posting, but I did recall the show (with pleasure) and one of its salient linguistic features, its

fast-paced, overlapping dialogue between the two leads, harkening back to classic screwball comedy films such as those of director Howard Hawks (link)

— what Deborah Tannen calls the “machine gun style”of speech.


Lowlife dialogue

June 6, 2012

Carl Hiaasen, interviewed in the NYT Book Review on June 3rd:

What book is on your night stand now?

“Raylan,” by Elmore Leonard, one of my writing heroes. There is nobody better at lowlife dialogue.

That is, at representing the speech of small-time crooks, con men, wiseguys, and the like. Well, white American lowlifes; there’s plenty of social and geographical variation in these things.


Geek days

May 22, 2012

Just learned that Thursday Friday is Geek Pride Day and was reminded that I should post some observations from Lal Zimman on the “geek voice”.



November 18, 2011

Haefeli cartoon in the latest New Yorker (November 21st):

The power of accents. Everybody knows, at some level, that our speech styles vary according to social context — who we’re talking to, about what, for what purposes — but most of us tend to assume that this variation is under conscious control, that people “put on” accents for some purpose, though linguists point out again and again that this degree of control is essentially impossible, that almost all of this style shifting has to be unconscious. But other people are often sensitive to these shifts, though again almost entirely at an unconscious level.

In the cartoon, the “Brooklyn” in her voice is surely not something she’s projecting willingly, but he’s aware of it and interprets it consciously. But not necessarily accurately — though it makes a wry joke.

The Social Network

June 5, 2011

Finally got around to watching The Social Network (a.k.a. The Facebook Movie) this morning. Stunning movie — a tragedy of ambition realized and of friendship betrayed, dark in many places (and visually dark in many scenes), alienating (despite being, in some sense, “about” social connection) — well written, directed, and acted. (The presentation of women in the movie is distressing, but possibly accurate from the point of view of the men depicted in it.)

There’s a lot to be said about works of art based on real-life events. They’re never true in detail to what happened (insofar as that can be known), and since they’re other people’s projections of their own artistic visions onto a found story — their re-workings of that story — they’re often both factually and emotionally false to the original. (But there are so many attractions to a found story.) So you shouldn’t take the movie to be a realistic presentation of Mark Zuckerberg’s progression from Cambridge MA to Palo Alto CA as Facebook rises.

Two linguistic points: Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg’s speech, and the fate of fuck in the extra material on the supplement disk to the main DVD (about the creation of the movie).

In the movie, Eisenberg’s speech style is intense, fast, machine-gun. (This is a definite heightening of the real Zuckerberg — who has even been known to laugh and joke.) I thought this came from the way Eisenberg was directed, but it turns out (as you can see from watching him on the supplement disc to the movie) that this is quite close to Eisenberg’s everyday speech style (though Eisenberg is very much given to laughing and joking, while still being serious about the craft of acting).

Then there’s the bleeping on the supplement disk. Two fucks get through in the movie (“my fuck-you flip-flops” and “the fuck bus”), plus at least one avoidance via freaking; apparently, two non-repeated fucks in a PG-13 movie is one over the regulation limit. (Yes, there are such things.) But on the supplement disk, all the fucks — and there are a fair number — are bleeped out, most entertainingly in an instance of the exclamation fucking shit!, where the final nasal of fucking is preserved, and shit gets by. All the taboo vocabulary besides fuck is untouched, in the film and on the supplement disk.

The ways of taboo avoidance are remarkable.


Got X?

April 12, 2011

I suppose it was inevitable: Got dick?, on the model of Got milk?, seen here on a t-shirt, from one of several sources for such items:


how / that

November 25, 2010

Comic Blunt Card with how used as a complementizer, roughly like that:

(Hat tip to Chris Ambidge.)


Vernacular writing

November 24, 2010

On Language Log recently, a Dinosaur Comics cartoon by Ryan North, with commentary by the cartoonist, entitled