• Monthly Archives: July 2018

Logorrhea and Public Speech

July 30, 2018

The term logorrh(o)ea is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary Online as “Excessive volubility accompanying some forms of mental illness; also gen., an excessive flow of words, prolixity.” The word is modeled on diarrhea, and the condition is one that seems to afflict some speakers, especially those who are habitually speaking to an audience. In a normal conversation between two people, foisting this habit of excessive loquacity on a single interlocutor assumes the lineaments of a linguistic grotesque and can prove exceedingly fatuous and tiresome, but politesse typically prevents the interlocutor from remarking on this unpleasant habit.

One forum in which loquacity of this sort is now commonplace is the classical concert hall, where performers and others routinely assume that every piece the audience is about to hear must be preceded by a short lecture on the composer, the players, etc. This was brought home to Y-H-B yesterday afternoon in Manchester Center, Vermont, where the director of a music festival blathered at otiose length before the beginning of a chamber music concert. It was bad enough that he went on interminably, but the form and content of his speech were so painfully ineloquent as to make at least this audience member squirm. The constant repetition of the words “incredible/incredibly” to qualify everything only made the experience incredibly worse.


Linguistic Norms and Their Violation as a Shibboleth

July 22, 2018

Speakers adhere to linguistic norms in varying degree regardless of whether they speak the standard language. Occasionally, they seem to depart from normative pronunciations for reasons that have largely to do with ignorance rather than willful deviation.

An example of this state of affairs was recently furnished on NPR when one of the announcers used the non-normative––but currently widespread––stress in the adjective electoral, when he put the primary stress on the third syllable rather than the second. In all other respects, this announcer’s speech adhered to the current American English norm.

The question posed here is: how does one evaluate this departure from the traditional norm? The answer is: this is clearly the result  of ignorance of the normative stress. This speaker most likely has never heard the correct stress in this word, and probably makes the same mistake in similar words, e. g. doctoral, mayoral, etc., with the same adjectival suffix.

A mistake of this kind can be called a “shibboleth” because it fits the definition of this term, i. e., “a sound or a word containing a sound whose proper articulation is difficult for and whose mispronunciation is regarded as reliably indicating or betraying a speaker who is not native or whose speech has been influenced by early acquaintance with another language” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online). Ultimately, it is an index of a lack of learning.


Absolutely, Great, Fantastic, Tremendous (Trump-Speak Unmasked)

July 12, 2018

Y-H-B has deliberately abstained from posting any commentary on the way Donald Trump speaks until now, but listening to an unannounced press conference this morning from Brussels on NPR has concentrated my mind on the topic and made me realize that the key to this form of pathological speech is the notion that “nothing means anything.”

Words normally have meanings that carve out semantic space in the semiotic web and are shared by speakers in sufficient measure for us to communicate with each other in a non-pathological way. We understand each other when we speak the same language to each other not because meanings are fixed but because the way in which linguistic tokens delineate semantic space in speech follow agreed-upon dimensions and do not vary capriciously.

These broad generalizations about language use do not apply to Trump-speak, which is what renders the latter pathological. If nothing means anything, then what passes for human speech cannot subserve the ends of human linguistic communication. It is simply a stream of English words masquerading as speech, hence linguistic tokens that make only specious reference to meaning.