January 23, 2003 - Fast Talk

DATE= TYPE=English Programs Feature NUMBER=7- TITLE=WORDMASTER - Fast Talk/Deborah Tannen BYLINE=Arditti/Skirble TELEPHONE=619-0927 DATELINE=Washington EDITOR=Ted Landphair CONTENT= Attention: English language learning AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- some fast talk with linguist and author Deborah Tannen. RS: Recently, she wrote an article in the Washington Post that criticizes a trend in American TV and film toward faster dialogue. Hollywood apparently thinks fast talkers sound smarter -- not to mention more like the young people producers want to appeal to. AA: But Deborah Tannen says faster is harder for a lot of people to understand. She says that all over the world, speakers from some regions tend to speak more slowly than those from other regions. Research has found that those who speak slower are stereotyped as stupid. But fast talkers can seem pushy. TAPE: CUT 1 鈥?3:54 TANNEN: 鈥淵ou can see this in the United States, where people from New York City in particular and the Northeast in general tend to speak somewhat more quickly, and it鈥檚 one of several things that I think leads us to be perceived as aggressive when we speak to people from other parts of the country. The Midwest would be an example of a place where people speak somewhat more slowly. New England would be another example, and the South would be another example. Although the particular manner of speaking will be different in each part of the country, those three parts are similar in that they would speak more slowly than people from the Northeast. But that鈥檚 not to say a New Englander and a Southerner are alike in other ways. We have I guess, a stereotype of a taciturn person from New England. We don鈥檛 think of the Southerners as being taciturn. They鈥檙e very verbal; they talk a lot. But they don鈥檛 get to the point as quickly as a person from New York might get.鈥? RS: 鈥淪o would the fast-paced speech that we鈥檙e hearing on TV and on radio and among teen-agers, would you consider this a fad?鈥? TANNEN: 鈥淚t seems that all of us, the older we get, the slower we speak. In the past, teen-agers might aspire to sound serious like adults. Now we鈥檝e got adults trying to sound like teen-agers. And we鈥檝e got the media -- the television, the advertisements, the movies -- trying to be cool and make everybody think that this is a person I want to be like by sounding more like teen-agers. There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal where they were reporting on this fact that dialogue on television now is faster. They interviewed the producer of a very popular cable show called 鈥楪ilmore Girls.鈥? And it鈥檚 about two young women, one is 30, one is 15 -- but they鈥檙e like teen-agers. It鈥檚 mother-daughter, but they鈥檙e really more like friends. And the producer said whereas traditionally one page of a script would be a minute, they figure twenty to twenty-two seconds. And they reported that they might redo a scene 30, 35 times trying to shave off just a couple of seconds and get it right. "In fact, I鈥檓 wondering if many of your listeners who listen to American shows might not be having more trouble and wondering 鈥榤aybe it鈥檚 my English?鈥? Since my article came out, I鈥檝e been receiving dozens of letters and e-mails from people saying 鈥業 thought it was me, I thought I was losing my hearing, I thought I was getting old and couldn鈥檛 think anymore.鈥欌€? AA: 鈥淲ell, the irony is that the American population is getting older -- 鈥? TANNEN: 鈥淵es! Yes!鈥? AA: 鈥淎nd yet the TV industry is aiming for the folks with lots of money -- which actually, the older folks have the money -- but they鈥檙e aiming for the younger folks.鈥? TANNEN: 鈥淵ou are so right. And all the people that are writing to me are asking why, why are they forgetting us and playing to the kids when we鈥檙e the ones who have more money, more disposable income to spend. But it shouldn鈥檛 be all about money, anyway.鈥? RS: 鈥淒o you have any suggestions of how to cope with someone who speaks rather quickly.鈥? TANNEN: 鈥淥ne thing I would say is, we all have to overcome our hesitance about interrupting a person and telling them we鈥檙e having trouble understanding. As many non-native speakers know, often when you have trouble understanding, the person will just speak louder. But I would really encourage people if they are having trouble to say something. It won鈥檛 be taken as an insult. It鈥檚 really taken usually as a compliment. It means I really want to understand what you鈥檙e saying.鈥? RS: Deborah Tannen is a linguistics professor at Georgetown University in Washington. Her last book, "I Only Say This Because I Love You," examined the speech patterns in family relationships. She also wrote the best-seller "You Just Don鈥檛 Understand," about how men and women communicate. AA: To help you better communicate in English, go to our Web site, voanews.com/wordmaster. You can download audio files and scripts. And our e-mail address is word@voanews.com. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.