Open thread on the way some people, right, sort of really talk these days

Speaking extemporaneously in public is difficult. Since I’ve been on radio and TV a few times, and then reviewed the tapes afterward, I’ve developed my own internal criticism (drowning out that critic’s voice is sometimes difficult even while I’m talking). And I’ve also become even more aware of how people talk, to the point of speaking back lines I hear, trying out alternative expressions, and generally driving myself nuts.

Anyway, all that “really, sort of, right,” seems to be ascending toward some kind of peak. I heard this passage on the radio recently (no need to identify the speaker, is there?), and had to jot it down. The discussion was about Google and other tech workers and their buses to San Francisco. That’s enough context:

Look, I think, I mean, so all the data suggests, right, from the recent Census in the last two years, that obviously that center city areas are growing faster than suburban areas. But I think what’s actually interesting that’s happening, when you start to think about the city/suburbs divide, is really what we’re starting to see is are cities and suburbs become more and more alike. And that is to say that cities are having to deal with a lot of the issues that suburban areas have dealt with for a long time, right: crime, density, housing, all those issues. And now I think what we’re starting to see is suburbs, for instance, having to think about themselves becoming more attractive to folks who are looking for this urban lifestyle. So you’re starting to see suburban areas really focus on this idea of creative place-making: how do you really create a unique, authentic place, where people want to live. I think the other interesting thing is for suburbs is that they’re connected on transit, right – this idea of transit-oriented development is really important – how can they be connected to the city in terms of becoming a really sort of key node here. And so, you know, I think what we’re seeing, again, is this sort of shift, right, is what we call sort of this blending, of both cities and suburbs. You know, and just for a second to go back to the point about sort of young people and sort of being – not thinking about community as much – I think what’s interesting is you sort of see this shift of technology workers, back to city centers. What’s interesting is that a lot of technology workers are wanting to live in city centers because they want to have access to a unique, diverse community, they want to be engaged in their communities, so you see more of them taking public transit, you see more of them sharing resources. So it is about I think this sort of you know, it is perhaps a different perspective, but it is about sort of this engagement that we’re starting to see among young technology workers, Millennials, Creatives, etc., that are really going to sort of not be the problem for our cities, but really help us think about the solutions and what’s sort of to try to fix those issues.

Without picking on individuals (too late), any thoughts?

18 thoughts on “Open thread on the way some people, right, sort of really talk these days

  1. These extra words seem meant to include the audience by affirming that they’re following, and maybe to mitigate the “expert” distance, as much as to express the speaker’s nervousness. How does it differ from professorial speech in a classroom? Any documentation of the comparative number of mitigating words when a question is put by students?


        1. My guess is that if it reflects either desire to reduce distance between speaker and audience, or lack of confidence in the position of authority — or the social desirability of expressing reduced distance or authority — then it would be more common among women. That’s from the little I know about gender and speech patterns. Please correct me if I’m wrong.


  2. Does the article you link to support that reading? The abstract says ““formal authority is more important than gender in understanding conversation patterns.” But women do smile and laugh more. So would be true more of women if women are less often in authority roles, but not of women per se. That the author in the example was a man would seem to support the not-a-gender thing reading.
    What’s your take on the “really, sort of” phenom?


  3. I like this question. The uptalk connection is a good one–and so is the general point about mitigation. I also wonder if the “tic” that “right?” becomes when people speak doesn’t also have to do with marketing speech. So, if I ask “does that make sense?” I am softening my pontification, but I suspect I am also seeking to persuade through using a joining phrase.


  4. I suspect there are cohort differences in how we respond to certain tics. For example, I counsel my advisees against too-frequent use of “sort of,” just as my advisors counseled me against the “umms” and “likes” that drove them to distraction. Still, after seeing transcripts of my own talks, I’m amazed that anyone would put up with my ramblings for more than 5 minutes.


    1. Maybe there is how close is your speech to your “good” written language (quantity of deviation), and then there is how you deviate when you do deviate (quality). If quality question amounts to style or fad, then complaining about “right” over “umm” just means you’re old.


    2. I think “sort of” is different (by which I mean I have less tolerance, even if I am guilty of using it). At least sometimes “sort of” has sounded to me like inaccuracy, lack of preparation (as well as mitigation and an “um” style tic). And if I’m wrong, then all the worse, right? (!)


  5. I have caught myself gradually picking up the tics from the younger people around me, despite my resistance. For example saying “like” twice a sentence. One you probably have not noticed is that women have picked up gravely voices, which I realize is not a dialect but I have become conscious of because it hurts my throat but I do it anyway. I think it is actually how language works and why distinctive local dialects develop so rapidly. We do it unconsciously. Vocabulary and accent but also habits of speech.


    1. I haven’t even noticed the gravely voices. Thanks. And I agree: That’s why this NYTimes dialect map quiz ( mostly differentiates people according to relatively recent terms, like “brew through” and “freeway,” rather than for “book” or “mountain.” The variation is most apparent for recent innovations. Eventually we settle on a hegemonic term or separate into more distinct dialects,


      1. The glottal fry in the video is the extreme, yes, but did you hear that even as she was explaining it, sometimes her voice dropped into the baritone range and got close to the fry point? She obviously didn’t mean to do it as she was critiquing the whole thing, but she was doing it anyway. By contrast, women in some other countries pitch voices very high in the range. I started experimenting and realize I CAN speak in higher tones than I usually use, and it is easier on my throat, but it feels unnatural.


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