We … um … don’t talk like we … uh … write. Why is that, anywho?
BY ALANA HARTLEY
OU News Bureau
The words used to write a Facebook post are different than those used in The New York Times.
Why is this? Why do we write differently than we speak? Why do we use slang words at all?
In casual conversation, people might use words such as ain’t, um or anywho, but grammatical standards and social expectations keep writers from using such language.
Written language began as a product of spoken language. Spoken language continues to have a long-term influence on written language, says John Freeman, special lecturer of writing and rhetoric at Oakland University.
“There’s a desire to catch up to spoken language in our pursuit of written language,” Freeman says.
Examples of this are neologisms, which are newly coined words or phrases such as webinar or Tebowing.
Slang – Why we use it
There are certain words that are not commonly used in formal writing but can be used regularly in verbal conversations.
For example, teenagers today use the word legit as an abbreviation for legitimate.
OU student Veronica Baumgarten says her sister “uses legit all the time because her friends use it.”
Words such as legit are used to identify members of a group and outsiders of that group, says Kevin Grimm, associate professor of English at OU.
The use of legit is an example of slang defined by the members of a group. Young people today understand the meaning and use of legit, but they may not understand or use terms from another generation, such as groovy.
According to Samuel Rosenthall, associate professor of linguistics at OU, this is why slang strengthens social bonds.
Words that ain’t words
Sometimes speakers add “filler words” to avoid awkward moments.
“Yes, but irregardless…”
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines irregardless as a “nonstandard version of regardless.”
Senior marketing major Dave Thompson says he can’t understand why people use this word.
“It’s not a word!” Thompson says.
Yet people use words such as irregardless or anywho in everyday conversations.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, irregardless is probably a mix of “irrespective” and “regardless,” both of which are recognized English words.
Nonexistent words such as irregardless or anywho, which is commonly used when a conversation is trailing off, can be described as filler words. Related words such as um and uh can be called hesitations used when a speaker is gathering his or her thoughts.
Pre-med student Catherine Slonksnis says she uses hesitation words such as um and so all the time. She agrees this habit drives people crazy.
The reason that people use these filler words and hesitation words might be that their minds are thinking faster than their lips can move.
“Hesitations are a result of the process of speech production. Your thoughts about what to produce are ahead of your articulators,” Rosenthall says.
When people say axe instead of ask, it might not be a lack of intelligence or sophistication. It’s possible that they are thinking faster than their mouth can form the words they want to say.
Sophomore linguistics major Rebecca Kaufeld says when people say axe instead of ask, it’s because the manner of articulation is similar for the two words. In such situations, she says, it’s common for sounds to get switched.
In linguistics, this process is called metathesis, which is derived from the Greek phrase “to put in a different order.”
Metathesis can also be seen when people say nucular instead of nuclear, interduce instead of introduce or ain’t instead of aren’t.
The difference between speaking and writing
Since written language is a reflection of spoken language, why don’t we write exactly the way we talk?
Part of the reason is the two types of grammar: prescriptive and descriptive.
Prescriptive grammar is a set of rules dictating how a language should be used. Descriptive grammar attempts to describe and explain the realities of language.
Linguists study descriptive grammar. They are interested in how a language is actually used, not how it should be used.
That doesn’t mean prescriptive grammar doesn’t have a function.
Rosenthall says prescriptive grammar is necessary for all speakers of a language to have a common standard. This standard, however, is not to be confused with correctness.
“Prescriptive grammar is an attempt to force a spoken language to look like the written language, but the written language is just not natural,” Rosenthall says.
The standards of prescriptive grammar force people to write differently than they speak. Prescriptive grammar is useful for writing but serves no other purpose, Rosenthall says.
Writing requires a longer thought process than speaking, he explains. This is perhaps why writers are able to filter out words such as irregardless or anywho.
The writer has time for the pen to catch up with the mind. The result is they don’t end up mixing words and saying irregardless or filling awkward pauses on paper with um and uh.
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