PDA

View Full Version : Why can't, uh... people, uh... talk?


K364
05-15-2006, 01:54 AM
I have noticed that the average guy or gal is not particularly eloquent. Maybe it's not surprising if someone can't find the perfect adjective or turn of phrase, but it's amazing how much trouble people have in finding commonplace nouns! Why would this be?

For example, a typical conversation would be:

"What did you do this weekend"

"Went down to, uh... Main street pub and there was a great uh... blues band playing. Saw, uh... what's-his-name, uh... Paul from accounting there. Did you know he bought a new uh... van" (etc)

I was listening to the hockey game tonight and the announcer came out with "...and he shoots the puck over the uh... boards". That's kinda strange considering this guys been calling hockey games for twenty years.

I know that language came relatively late in the game for Homo Sapiens, but as an individual we do use it all day long, for all of our lives; and you would think we would not struggle so much with nouns. Do they get pulled out of a different part of our brain when we're talking?

Zoe
05-15-2006, 02:06 AM
Try talking with a bright but elderly person whose brain has short-circuited. Phone conversation with my 93 year old mother:

Mom: She had her computer with her...no...not her computer that's silly... you know what I mean...

Me: What do you mean?

Mom: That thing you use down the hall.

Me: Can you give me more of a description?

Mom: It helps you walk down the hall.

Me: The hand rail?

Mom: No. You know.

Me: A walking stick? A walking cane?

Mom: No...with both hands.

Me: A walker?

Mom: Right!

She keeps her sense of humor about it and we've always liked to play guessing games. I guess that makes it easier. But I'm getting older. What happens when I can't think of the right questions to ask or the right word either?

I hope that this relates to the OP in some way. :)

dnooman
05-15-2006, 02:49 AM
Modern speech is being changed on an almost daily basis. IMO not for the better. I blame Internet Chat for the majority of the next generations woes.

English has been bastardized and mangled for quite some time now, too bad the younger generation is much better at mutilating it than any before. It makes me sick too, but that's how we evolve (don't get me started).

Personally, I like relaxed grammar (one can start a sentence with "and") but I still loathe incorrect spelling. Especially when it's my own. Those too lazy to capitalize proper nouns get horrible diarhea in the afterlife.

Lissa
05-15-2006, 02:54 AM
The English language is always in a state of flux. Even the most eloquent and articulate speeches today look plain compared with, say, a speech written by Elizabeth I.

People have always used a more economical form of English in informal settings. A conversation may consist of sentence fragments and other grammatical errors which sound natural when speaking but look awful on paper.

Saying "uh" is just a bad habit. Many people have natural pauses while they consider their next words. (I know that I do. I have a slight speech impediment, and there will sometimes be a slight pause as I construct my thoughts into a coherent phrase or my words may get tangled.) Most probably don't realize how often they say "uh" in any given conversation. I've even seen people touted as professional speakers who sprinkle it liberally into their speeches. Once a person realizes it, practice and dilligence can eliminate it nearly entirely.

Now, when it comes to being able to express ideas coherently, I think that's an aspect of education. Today's kids don't often get training in speaking. Back when I was a wee young pup, we sometimes had to make oral reports on various subjects and sometimes had class debates. From what I've heard, that's not so common anymore.

As an aside, I'm starting to wonder if they're not teaching writing, either, though students assure me that they do have to write reports and the like. An alarming number of papers turned into my husband by his college students are painfully bad. Mixed tenses, excreable grammar . . . I'm not a Grammar Nazi, but I do find fault when a person's grammar gets in the way of comprehension. On occasion, I've felt like I should call in a UN translator to decipher what the student was trying to say.

Neptunian Slug
05-15-2006, 03:43 AM
I have noticed that the average guy or gal is not particularly eloquent. Maybe it's not surprising if someone can't find the perfect adjective or turn of phrase, but it's amazing how much trouble people have in finding commonplace nouns! Why would this be?

For example, a typical conversation would be:

"What did you do this weekend"

"Went down to, uh... Main street pub and there was a great uh... blues band playing. Saw, uh... what's-his-name, uh... Paul from accounting there. Did you know he bought a new uh... van" (etc)

I was listening to the hockey game tonight and the announcer came out with "...and he shoots the puck over the uh... boards". That's kinda strange considering this guys been calling hockey games for twenty years.

I know that language came relatively late in the game for Homo Sapiens, but as an individual we do use it all day long, for all of our lives; and you would think we would not struggle so much with nouns. Do they get pulled out of a different part of our brain when we're talking?



In the first case you use, I wouldn't read too much into it about the downfall of the English language. I think the speaker is simply trying to provide more information than was requested and his brain is a little behind in recalling the data. Speaking before one thinks is not an uncommon problem.

Fish
05-15-2006, 05:24 AM
I suppose your experiences about the average person's eloquence depend on where you're from.

I've seen off-the-cuff interviews of English men and women who were very articulate even when speaking extemporaneously.

It's possible that our education system (and by our I mean the one in the U.S.) does not place a premium upon public speaking. Apart from theater classes that I took voluntarily, I was not required to learn to do speak in public except for a brief one-week lesson in 8th grade.

kambuckta
05-15-2006, 05:53 AM
Try talking with a bright but elderly person whose brain has short-circuited. Phone conversation with my 93 year old mother:

Mom: She had her computer with her...no...not her computer that's silly... you know what I mean...

Me: What do you mean?

Mom: That thing you use down the hall.

Me: Can you give me more of a description?

Mom: It helps you walk down the hall.

Me: The hand rail?

Mom: No. You know.

Me: A walking stick? A walking cane?

Mom: No...with both hands.

Me: A walker?

Mom: Right!

She keeps her sense of humor about it and we've always liked to play guessing games. I guess that makes it easier. But I'm getting older. What happens when I can't think of the right questions to ask or the right word either?

I hope that this relates to the OP in some way. :)

Heh. Your mom sounds like my mum Zoe.

And just think of all the delights we have to look forward to in our dotage. :D

Pushkin
05-15-2006, 05:54 AM
The "uh" always seems integral to transcripts of cockpit conversations before the plane goes down in the newspapers. You'd think crashing a 747 would concentrate the mind, but, uh, no.

racer72
05-15-2006, 07:27 AM
My general supervisor is a nice guy and obviously has some talent to get where he is in large company. But talking to him one on one can be painful, he adds a "you know" to the end of almost every sentence. He does not do this when talking to a group though. I will go out of my way to avoid him just so I don't have to listen to him, you know.

Shalmanese
05-15-2006, 07:34 AM
I have noticed that the average guy or gal is not particularly eloquent. Maybe it's not surprising if someone can't find the perfect adjective or turn of phrase, but it's amazing how much trouble people have in finding commonplace nouns! Why would this be?

For example, a typical conversation would be:

"What did you do this weekend"

"Went down to, uh... Main street pub and there was a great uh... blues band playing. Saw, uh... what's-his-name, uh... Paul from accounting there. Did you know he bought a new uh... van" (etc)

I was listening to the hockey game tonight and the announcer came out with "...and he shoots the puck over the uh... boards". That's kinda strange considering this guys been calling hockey games for twenty years.

I know that language came relatively late in the game for Homo Sapiens, but as an individual we do use it all day long, for all of our lives; and you would think we would not struggle so much with nouns. Do they get pulled out of a different part of our brain when we're talking?

Most people's minds seamlessly filter out all of the pauses and gaps in conversation unless you happen to be specifically paying attention to it.

Take a look at the transcripts of the watergate tapes (http://nixon.archives.gov/find/tapes/watergate/trial/connally_exhibit_1.pdf).

Richard Pearse
05-15-2006, 08:06 AM
The "uh" always seems integral to transcripts of cockpit conversations before the plane goes down in the newspapers. You'd think crashing a 747 would concentrate the mind, but, uh, no.

It does concentrate the mind, just not on speach. When the poo has hit the whirly thing, the brain goes into overdrive, but it's working on solutions, not articulating clearly to your crew mate. It's a bit like trying to hold a conversation while playing a musical instrument, not easy. And the more complicated the piece of music, the more your speach suffers.

RealityChuck
05-15-2006, 08:26 AM
Modern speech is being changed on an almost daily basis. IMO not for the better. I blame Internet Chat for the majority of the next generations woes.

English has been bastardized and mangled for quite some time now, too bad the younger generation is much better at mutilating it than any before. It makes me sick too, but that's how we evolve (don't get me started).Wow! A 200-year-old post showing up on the SDMB!

After all, using terms like bus and mob are a sure sign the younger generation is ruining the language! Why, they don't even know when to use a medial s! Illiterates, all!

:rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

Pushkin
05-15-2006, 08:26 AM
It does concentrate the mind, just not on speach. When the poo has hit the whirly thing, the brain goes into overdrive, but it's working on solutions, not articulating clearly to your crew mate. It's a bit like trying to hold a conversation while playing a musical instrument, not easy. And the more complicated the piece of music, the more your speach suffers.

My workmate (often cow-orker) solves this by completely shutting down every part of her brain not involved in drafting an email. Its almost like having to schedule the briefest conversation with her :rolleyes:

As an aside, there was a comedy series, The Day Today that featured a spoof documentary on an office "rationalisation." One poor office worker had his workmates shout "UH!" at him every time he said it in a sentence. To be seen to be appreciated of course ;)

Wendell Wagner
05-15-2006, 08:43 AM
There is nothing new about having pauses and hesitation markers (like "uh") in speech. These have apparently existed through the entire history of human language. They are apparently no more common in contemporary English than in any other period of English and are apparently no more common than in any other period of any other language. (Does anyone have any research by linguists indicating differently?) We're just not as aware of the pauses and hesitations in other periods and languages because we're generally reading them, not listening to them, and these things are nearly always filtered out in writing.

Gerome
05-15-2006, 08:55 AM
I always got the impression that "ums" and "ahs" are just things people say while their brain catches up with their mouth. Not necessarily a reflection of their abilities with language, but possibly an indicator of the amount of attention they're actually paying to the conversation.

K364
05-15-2006, 10:07 AM
OP here...

Just clarifying - I could take for granted the uhs/ums/ers in everyday speech: many replies to this thread have given plausible justification why they are used.

BUT, why everyday nouns? They should be the easiest part of speech in any sentence; adjectives, adverb and their respective phrases can give the speaker pause to ensure the correct shade of meaning is about to be conveyed, but the speaker rarely has any options with a noun.

For example: "Go out to the uh..., garage and bring me back the green uh..., sweater I left in the uh..., car.

"Go out" and "bring me back" and "green" could have been substituted with many similar phrases, but those aren't the parts that seem to trip up the speaker. It's the discrete, commonplace nouns.

You will NOT hear: "Run, um I mean go out to the garage and um retrieve, I mean get me my uh emerald, well light greenish sweater I uh forget or uh left in the car.

Listen to someone who has trouble spitting it out and you'll be surprised at how it seems that nouns are not being retrieved properly.

pseudotriton ruber ruber
05-15-2006, 10:31 AM
I just read John Burroughs' book on "Camping with President Roosevelt," which happens to be about 100 years old, and you wouldn't believe the level of skillful expression, eloquent yet plain, and the high level of vocabulary, which was perfectly lucid even though we don't use some of Burroughs' expressions very much these days, in this short account.

I think there was a modicum level of expression, a minmum requirement if you will of formal discourse, that we simply lack. Any babbler can get a book contract, and spew tape-recorded nonsense that someone cleans up the worst rambloings from ('uh's and 'like", 'you knows", etc.) and that's a book. Once that level of disourse declines, the level of speech becomes less lofty. Eventually, we'll be reduced to grunting and pointing, I think.

Look at any book from 1906 and see if you don't agree.

NoCoolUserName
05-15-2006, 10:54 AM
I've had this problem for years (currently I'm 55 years old). I'm hoping a) someone who knows will tell us why this happens and b) tell us how to fix it!

Typical comment from me: "So this is a really long...bunch of words with a period at the end. Longer than a phrase, shorter than a paragraph..."Sentence"! That's it!

I don't "uh" or use any other filler, I just, sometimes, can't think of the bleepin' word! It often happens because my brain is stuck on one word which is not exactly the one I want.

I speak beautifully in public, by the way.

rivulus
05-15-2006, 11:09 AM
BUT, why everyday nouns? They should be the easiest part of speech in any sentence; adjectives, adverb and their respective phrases can give the speaker pause to ensure the correct shade of meaning is about to be conveyed, but the speaker rarely has any options with a noun.I would also be curious if someone had an answer to this. I'm a fairly educated (Ph.D.) and reasonably articulate person, but I have a hard time recalling names for things during the course of normal conversation (including names of people, but also names for common items). It is worse, of course, under stress -- but I can blank on a noun any time. It does not seem to be age-related, in my case. I have always been this way.

carterba
05-15-2006, 11:13 AM
Most of us say "uh" and "um" a lot more than we realize, and we hear it a lot more than we realize too. It's amazing to compare "clean" transcripts of conversations to unexpurgated transcripts, and unexpurgated transcripts to your memory. Generally, people really don't speak in complete sentences, but we tend to remember conversations as going from one complete sentence to the next.

RickJay
05-15-2006, 12:10 PM
Modern speech is being changed on an almost daily basis. IMO not for the better. I blame Internet Chat for the majority of the next generations woes.

English has been bastardized and mangled for quite some time now, too bad the younger generation is much better at mutilating it than any before.
Shakespeare, by himself, probably created as many commonly used words as this entire generation of kids.

Wendell Wagner
05-15-2006, 12:23 PM
pseudotriton ruber ruber writes:

> I think there was a modicum level of expression, a minmum requirement if you
> will of formal discourse, that we simply lack. Any babbler can get a book
> contract, and spew tape-recorded nonsense that someone cleans up the worst
> rambloings from ('uh's and 'like", 'you knows", etc.) and that's a book. Once
> that level of disourse declines, the level of speech becomes less lofty.
> Eventually, we'll be reduced to grunting and pointing, I think.

This is an anecdote and not research. In 1906 the level of literacy was significantly less. I don't know of any research showing that the average level of articulateness was any greater one hundred years ago.

ralph124c
05-15-2006, 12:50 PM
I think the whole public speaking thing had declined. take policticians-they don't deliver coherent speeches anymore 9try listening to one of Sen. Ted kennedie's ravings, for example). I also think that people think more and more in terms of sound bite-little bit of info that can be digested peacemeal. Also, most people don't like florid speeches anymore-they figure that they are being lied to, so why listen to the blather?
You should read some of the speeched in the "Congressional Record"-most of them would put you to sleep.

CookingWithGas
05-15-2006, 01:13 PM
I have noticed that the average guy or gal is not particularly eloquent. This could simply be by definition. The average guy or gal is not particulary eloquent; he or she is simply. . .average. :) Assuming that eloquence conforms to a normal distribution, half of the population is below average.

To take another tack, however, may require a weigh-in from a speech pathologist. The issue you describe sounds like a very, very mild non-pathological form of aphasia, which is caused by brain damage such as a stroke. There is also a speech disorder where the person can recognize people or things but just can't retrieve the word; I don't know if that is a symptom of aphasia or some other disorder.

This may also be related to the communication between the two sides of the brain.

From this article (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro01/web3/AhmedN.html):
In another experiment split brain experiment, a word such as "fork" was flashed on the right side of the screen in a way that only the right hemisphere of a patient could receive the information. The patient would not be able to say what the word was. However, when asked [to] write what he saw, his left hand would begin to write the word "fork" even though the patient himself had no idea what he had just written. The patent could sense that he wrote something but would have no idea what. Since there was no connection between the hemispheres on could conclude that information presented to the right half of the brain cannot convey this information to the left. If we follow the assumption from Broca's and Wernickes' speech studies that the language hemisphere is the left, then the results are all the more interesting (6).

Sailboat
05-15-2006, 01:33 PM
Those too lazy to capitalize proper nouns get horrible diarhea in the afterlife.

The English language is always in a state of flux.

Considering that flux is another word for "diarrhea," this is a fantastic transition. :)

Sailboat

Lissa
05-15-2006, 01:36 PM
In 1906 the level of literacy was significantly less. I don't know of any research showing that the average level of articulateness was any greater one hundred years ago.

At the museum in which I work, I've read a lot of letters from between 1800 and 1946. My purely unscientific observations are that "common folk" writing a letter to Sis to catch her up on the news didn't use the flowery, verbose language of, say, a politician writing to express their views.

You have to consider the purpose of the communication as well. Some letters are notes to relatives catching them up on the gossip, or reminding them to bring something with them when they come to visit. Except for spelling, those aren't much more articulate than you'd see today.* Other letters were intended to be read aloud to friends and families, a cherished recreational activity in the Victorian times. Those are much more eloquent, almost an exercize in creative writing.

The upper classes tended to be more eloquent, but this could be partially attributed to economics during some periods. In the 1820s and '30s, postage was often charged by how many sheets of paper the sender had used. (Cross-hatching was a deplorable custom that arose from this. I despise it because it's so hard to read.) Poorer people simply couldn't afford to be as verbose as the wealthy, nor did they likely have the kind of leisure time needed to compose an eloquent missive.


*Computer shorthand is another matter.

Rigamarole
05-15-2006, 01:49 PM
It does concentrate the mind, just not on speach. When the poo has hit the whirly thing, the brain goes into overdrive, but it's working on solutions, not articulating clearly to your crew mate. It's a bit like trying to hold a conversation while playing a musical instrument, not easy. And the more complicated the piece of music, the more your speach suffers.

Yes, excellent observation!

When I know exactly what I want to communicate to someone, I have few problems doing so, clearly and ... well I want to say "articulately", which is technically correct, but kind of a mouthful. Uh, loud and clear. :)

But when I'm still thinking about something, and trying to speak at the same time, it can really be a mess. Or if I'm just not 100% sure what it is I'm trying to communicate, my speech will also suffer.

teela brown
05-15-2006, 04:43 PM
I read more old books than I speak to human beings. As a result, when I do speak, my speech patterns are formal and arranged well - albeit in an old-fashioned manner. As you might imagine, this just makes folks think I'm weird. Someone recently complained that they had to look up a word that I used in a conversation, yet I don't remember ever using any elaborate words when speaking to co-workers. I try to keep it brief, businesslike, and to the point.

So speaking like Frasier Crane gains you no advantage at all. If I spoke like Jerry Mahoney's "Knucklehead" character, I'd probably get a lot more respect!

Alan Smithee
05-15-2006, 05:03 PM
I can't believe no one's told this one yet--

So a guy is trying to follow the directions to a party at a house he'd never been to, and he gets lost. He sees this old man out in his yard putting a letter in the mailbox, so he pulls up next to him and says, "Excuse me, can you help? I'm trying to find Elm Street."

"Elm Street, eh? That's back that way. You'll have turn on...uh....You'll have to forgive me, son, my mind ain't what it used to be. What's the name of that plant?"

"You mean elm?"

"No, that's where you're trying to get, I remember that, but there's another plant, a smaller one..."

"Juniper?"

"No, it's a kind of flower; it's red. And it's got thorns on it."

"Rose?"

"That's it," says the old man as he turns to the house and yells, "Hey Rose!!! Come tell this young fellow how to get to Elm Street!

Kevbo
05-15-2006, 06:16 PM
The OP has not heard a serious case of this unless he is a ham radio operator. Many HF ("shortwave") operators use a VOX circuit (voice operated switch) to switch between recieving and transmitting. This is built into almost all modern gear. This circuit will deactivate if the operator pauses too long. So, umm, many, umm, operators,um, umm, umm, develope the, umm,umm,habit, of, um......so that the VOX doesn't drop. In my mind this is one of the single greatest contributers to the continued use of morse code by hams.

It seems that the local university radio station trys to keep it's jocks from saying "ummmm". Instead, they punctuate thier speech with a string of inappropriate "and"s. I think somewhere in excess of 90% of the sentences will start with that word: <tune fades>...And that was Carlos Santanna, And the title of that tune was......and we're coming up on 5 pm and don't forget to call in your pledge of support and we'll have the local news next, and that will be hosted by.....

faithfool
05-15-2006, 10:38 PM
OP here...

Just clarifying - I could take for granted the uhs/ums/ers in everyday speech: many replies to this thread have given plausible justification why they are used.

BUT, why everyday nouns? They should be the easiest part of speech in any sentence; adjectives, adverb and their respective phrases can give the speaker pause to ensure the correct shade of meaning is about to be conveyed, but the speaker rarely has any options with a noun.

For example: "Go out to the uh..., garage and bring me back the green uh..., sweater I left in the uh..., car.

"Go out" and "bring me back" and "green" could have been substituted with many similar phrases, but those aren't the parts that seem to trip up the speaker. It's the discrete, commonplace nouns.

You will NOT hear: "Run, um I mean go out to the garage and um retrieve, I mean get me my uh emerald, well light greenish sweater I uh forget or uh left in the car.

Listen to someone who has trouble spitting it out and you'll be surprised at how it seems that nouns are not being retrieved properly.

Purely speculation here, from my own anecdotal evidence, but I always assumed that my recent devolvement -- if that's still a word with the suffix added -- into doing this frequently stemmed from a previous nervous breakdown and then consequent diminishment of memory skills. It seems now that I can't speak as eloquently because (as noted) the nouns hide from me when I need them. And the longer I search about, the more the pause grows so that I try to fill it with the occasional "um" to prevent appearing more of an idiot than I feel for not being able to articulate a simple word, like sandwich or some such.

However, I'm not sure if this is the case or just wishfulness that since it's come about in latter years (I'm 38), it has to be due to something rather than nothing.