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Tuesday, August 08, 2000

Dialects and Dialogs

Snippet from an email to Mia:

Mia writes:
The way words get slurred is by the intense frequency of usage, no? If the most common greeting is "Hello, you all," after a generation or two in very casual settings, it becomes "Hey Y'all."

Yes, exactly. That's just the point is that when a subculture gets locked into a very small vocabulary, *all* of the words become more frequently used (because there are fewer of them; or correspondingly, because there are few but common topics of discourse).

Do you have any more examples, case studies?

Nope, it was just a thought... It came from the observation that the places where I've had the hardest time understanding the accents have also always been places with very limited vocabularies -- and then it occurred to me that someone within those subcultures would have a much narrower set of expectations than I do and thus would have a much easier time extracting words from relatively slurred speech. For an extreme example of this: try listening to an airport control tower radio for a while. Most people can't make heads or tails of it, even though it's mostly plain English! The trouble is the radio noise and background noise and fast paced talking throw out way too much information to be able to disambiguate the words from within the entire English vocabulary. However, it turns out the vocabulary they use is *tiny* -- maybe a couple hundred words? So once you learn what words to expect, suddenly you can make perfect sense of it.

I.e., it's not simply that you learn the accent or dialect, it's that you learn the limits of the domain as well; and I guess this is my point: that many accents are so slurred that you can't understand them unless you also learn the limits of the subculture in which the accent is spoken.


Another email snippet, on the topic of topic:

Heh, I often wonder the same thing: What is it that people talk about? And more, what on earth do I have to talk to most people about? Not a lot, I'm afraid. I'm a frontier's man, so most of what I think about is unrelated to what most people think about. :( To me, communication is for conveying the unexpected -- that which one or the other person genuinely doesn't know and can't predict. This includes everything from making daily plans ("the movie is at 7pm") to philosophizing ("ever wondered what bees think about?"), but specifically does not include talking for talking's sake, small-talk, etc.., since with those things neither party is really learning anything particularly novel, interesting, nor germane.

So I guess in truth I don't particularly like talking in general. :/ When I do, it's because something very genuine has come up and I'm curious to hear someone else's thoughts or knowledge on it, or they mine. That can happen in technical domains (e.g., math, physics, computers, philosophy, etc..) or also just in life's happenings (e.g., relationships, goals, emotions, plans, etc..).

I have trouble with shallow conversation. Conversely, a conversation can never be too deep -- I never get uncomfortable from a question or admission "too personal" or "too invasive". To me, those extremes are where the unanswered questions are found, the places where our own subjectivity and egos make it difficult to see everything clearly. Those are the domains where thought and conversation belong -- on the frontiers, where everything is a challenge. :)

Correspondingly to the above, I have no problem being with someone and not talking. Even going out to a restaurant or something, to just sit and think and be and to talk only when and if a genuine thought or curiosity arises is optimal. Or at home, the same thing. Garrett*'s a good roommate that way, because he and I can sit and work on our own respective things, and there's some comfort in the company even though we often don't talk at all (which is good, because we can actually get work done!); but we are both there when one or the other of us has a question, or witticism or observation to share, or whatnot.

Ben, on the other hand, I have a harder time with because there always feels some pressure to converse with him when he's around, even though we have nothing to say to each other most of the time. And as a result, I think we avoid each other for the most part. :/ So, basically because he is more inherently social than I am, we end up being not social at all. :/



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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com