Why They're Talking as Fast as They Can
January 5, 2003 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Did You Catch That? Linguistics expert Deborah Tannen looks at perceptions and realities surrounding the speed at which we intercommunicate (washingtonpost.com).
posted by LinusMines (23 comments total)
Could somebody please explain the difference between communicating and intercommunicating?
posted by muckster at 9:18 AM on January 5, 2003

Hey, I have some reality between how I communicate:

I usually will walk away from a conversation with someone if the first thing on their mind is to ask me A/S/L. Actually, depending on how they ask it, I might leave feeling a bit angry.
posted by shepd at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2003

I thought this might be asked. There is no real difference between "communication" and "intercommunication", based on the thesauri I looked at.

The op-ed piece is not so much about the speed at which we communicate globally (as in "sending megabytes across the world in nanoseconds"), but interpersonally, whether it's media-to-viewer or face-to-face.
posted by LinusMines at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2003

The article didn't intercommunicate much to me as I had to register/fill out some form before I could read it..
posted by Orange Goblin at 9:46 AM on January 5, 2003

Interesting article. I've always had a problem of talking too fast - sometimes I work hard to slow down, and other times I just apologize and tell people to listen faster.

I didin't realize, thought, that television shows are actually trying to get actors to talk faster, which is unfortunate; more information is presented but less thought analysis is allowed. Sounds like the same trend is occuring in the news shows as well. In the future: "FoxNews - we report, you decide (just don't take too long).

I found this quote on listening(taken from the end of this article) interesting:
To be a successful listener, you must also believe that listening is power. Because our society places so much emphasis on speaking as the way to win friends and influence people, good listeners can quietly have a powerful and subversive impact. You should also remember that speakers have little power without listeners. Speakers share their wisdom and try to persuade, but listeners make meaning of what is heard -- they make the ultimate decision to act on what they hear.

It seems that people/television/news is talking so fast, the listener is ignored. But does the listener still have power, or will they be pushed aside by faster and faster communication?
posted by jazon at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2003

We previously discussed IM-speak; the Diane Rehm interview with Bausch (and his brother).

All due respect to Tannen, I think she's off base, or at least coming at this from a too-narrow perspective. The idea that this is new is absurd: has she never heard of Howard Hawks?

The most distinctive element in his films is the frequent use of "overlapping dialogue," in which characters frequently start sentences before other characters have finished theirs -- this technique, if used properly (as Hawks always did), lent greater speed, tension, and snap to the scene, and made watching Hawks's films a riveting experience.

To my mind, this is the direction that Sorkin and Palladino are going -- smart TV for smart people, or if you want to put it cynically, TV that flatters viewers who catch the dialogue. I'll admit that's part of the fun: getting the joke even as another is being set up. While I have my issues with The West Wing (I still think Sports Night was a better show), and I would never say Gilmore Girls is four-star drama, I admire and enjoy both; the latter, certainly, is not dumbed down, because the daughter character is depicted as seeking out admission to Harvard (or Yale, if her grandfather has his way) -- and has included scenes shot on both campuses.

Now, here's the thing about Ivy League degrees and scholarly people: when depicted on television, it is almost certainly either as an ironic juxtaposition of "smart" with "buffoon" (e.g. Frasier Crane), or as insufferable snobbery. Even a serious middlebrow TV drama would be far more likely to have a character turn down Harvard and go to another school based on a dramatically justified emotional reason: closer to home, following a lover, fulfilling a family tradition. The idea of a high school student working hard to get into one of the best colleges in the country -- the world -- merely to ensure success is outside the bounds of most primetime fare. Additionally, the content of many of the one-off jokes is often freakishly esoteric. A recent show had Lorelai, eating at her Brahmin parents' home, making a deadpan joke, after the maid was reprimanded, about the 1914 murders at Taliesin where a deranged servant killed Frank Lloyd Wright's girlfriend and her children. Thus, I don't accept the premise that GG is merely trying to appear hip.

Returning to the Hawks quote, the purpose seems mainly to increase the engagement and attention of the viewer. These aren't shows you can have on in the background; you can only enjoy the dialogue if you're sitting and listening raptly. (Well, unless you have a TiVo.) This is clearly a reaction in the current entertainment environment against the multiplicity of distractions, which is why it applies to news shows as well as dramas. A rapid-fire debate is more "interesting" than a long, quiet interview. The viewer is less likely to click away to another channel. Also, quicker dialogue allows for faster topic-changing, which means that if something is boring to the viewer, they are assured that it will change soon. As for movie trailers, these are ads trying to engage the attention of viewers who may still be wandering around with coats and popcorn. We discussed the to-the-second science of trailers a while back.

Finally, as a half-Swede, I have to chime in on Scandinavian silence (and jokes). I don't think know that I can accept the idea that the joke related is depicting the character as stupid, or merely exaggerating the characteristic of slow speech to the point of absurdity. It may be that Finns are considered slow by some Swedes, but one of the bases of Scandinavian humor is prickly, but mainly well-intentioned, joshing of other Scandinavians, even of themselves. The latter have become institutionalized in the US as Ole and Lena (or Sven or Lars) jokes. But I can say this of Finns: dour does not begin to describe it.
posted by dhartung at 10:41 AM on January 5, 2003

Her tongue trills while her throat emits a steady, high-pitched sound, like a tape recording of someone making motor sounds played back at Donald Duck speed.

I suspect she meant chipmunk speed. Donald Duck was incomprehensible, but not because he spoke too quickly. I've noticed this a bit lately, people using cartoon analogies, but getting them wrong.
posted by piskycritter at 10:46 AM on January 5, 2003

Donald Duck did go on many rants that were incomprehensible. He would explode in some sort of fast paced quacking diatribe, which I only assume was real words if slowed down. If my memory is correct, this sort of thing is more common the earlier one goes in the character's history. I agree chipmunks would be a better analogy, but the DD one is not necessarily incorrect.

Personally, I was displeased with the lack of substance of the article. It was almost entirely anecdotal, and could have been summed up into a one paragraph quote.
posted by rudyfink at 11:41 AM on January 5, 2003

...the speed at which we intercommunicate.

According to the Washington Post, "This will only take a few seconds...."
posted by oissubke at 12:05 PM on January 5, 2003

But seriously...
...in every country that has been studied, people from the slower-speaking regions are stereotyped as stupid.
As a native Alabamain, I say "Amen" to that. (Insert your redneck joke here.)
posted by agentfresh at 12:54 PM on January 5, 2003

It isn't just speaking that's speeding up, but writing, too -- with troubling results

In the UK, and I believe most of Europe, SMS messaging is endemic. Leads to stuff like this, (4th para particularly relevant), sadly. Well, IMHO, anyway...
posted by punilux at 12:58 PM on January 5, 2003

Sorry. endemic.
posted by punilux at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2003

For all the talk about fast-paced dialogue appealing to certain demographics, there is a practical reason for its use: more can be said. It's the same reason the Simpsons doesn't have a laughtrack; on a 22-minute show, an extra 45 seconds means valuable plot development and characterization, or a few more jokes.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2003

That, and laughtracks suck...
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2003

As a native Finn, I'm with dhartung. It goes both ways, the Swedes are often considered stupid in Finnish jokes. It has little to do with the pace of speech (which, I'd say, is more or less equal). And language boundaries are where I think the speed theory stops. The speed does not matter if you can't understand the language anyway.

The people from Häme are generally stereotyped as slow (in anything they do) and lacking social grace.
posted by ikalliom at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2003

Just so people aren't misled, there are a LOT of linguistics who would never call Deborah Tannen a "Linguistics expert". For what it's worth.
posted by advil at 2:48 PM on January 5, 2003

(1st "linguistics" = linguists...oops)
posted by advil at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2003

if you speak really fast or say something completely over someone else's head it can make them conclude before they understand you.
tannen definitely has a stance (or bias), and a lot of the points made in the article sound ferverent because of tannen's emotion, but some people do get left behind despite of intention.
i do think people listen faster in general now than say 10 years ago. at least where i live they do. i've always been told i spoke too fast and now it seems more people are understanding me.
posted by elle at 12:20 AM on January 6, 2003

jazon -

Has anyone you've told to "listen faster" ever just walked away from you at that point? The arrogance displayed by that demand is amazing.
posted by Irontom at 3:59 AM on January 6, 2003

What I find most disturbing is the increasing loss of precious silence in this world. Even in my own home, it's hard to find a few moments of absolute silence, between the noise of my home, neighborhood children screaming, the neighbors' dogs barking, etc etc.
posted by archimago at 7:32 AM on January 6, 2003

Dear Ms. Tannen:

WTF is intercommunicate?
posted by ParisParamus at 8:05 AM on January 6, 2003

Dear Paris:

Too bad that vaguely jokelike response was made right off the bat (first comment in thread, a day ago). If you're not going to contribute anything useful, at least be original. Oh, and "intercommunicate" is a perfectly good word, in use for centuries. Merriam-Webster has

Main Entry: in·ter·com·mu·ni·cate
Pronunciation: "in-t&r-k&-'myü-n&-"kAt
Function: intransitive verb
Date: 1586
1 : to exchange communication with one another
2 : to afford passage from one to another

and you can read the American Heritage entry here.
posted by languagehat at 10:08 AM on January 6, 2003

In other words, an archaic, pretentious, redundant mode of communicating something synonymous with COMMUNICATE, or actually less so, since, in English (as opposed to French), meaning 2 is not widely recognized.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:31 AM on January 6, 2003

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