Since the dawn of time, substance and form have been vying for ascendancy in every aspect of human endeavor. (This is an immutable truth, and thus does not require the citation of references.) Even today, in every field, from agriculture to electrical engineering, from textiles to personal computing, the battle is waged.
So also in the spoken word, posture vies with clarity. From the day a child is born, he is judged by the speed whereby he acquires two different and conflicting skills: erect posture and the ability to speak. Taking the developing infant as a model for the entire species, we may contrast Homo erectus with Homo sapiens.
It is well noted further that in an random sampling of healthy human infants (excluding those who suffer from genetic or other physical defects) there is a marked contrast between early acquisition of motor ability and speech. Infants who achieve early in sitting up, rolling over and begging are usually rather slow of wit and thick of tongue. Those who speak early tend to be more retarded in acquiring such important skills as rolling over, fetching and heeling. (See Piaget, The Art of Potty Training Your Dog.)
Likewise, from a purely sociological standpoint, not taking into account any ingrained abilities of the subject, the growing child is constantly faced with two conflicting admonitions: “Sit up straight!” and “Don’t mumble!” Since no one could possibly be expected to adhere to both, a choice presents itself. Assuming no personal predilection or societal pressure in favor of one or the other, one would expect a random selection and more or less 50/50 distribution of persons with good posture and persons with clear speech among any population group. Alas, that is not the case.
Studies have shown that different populations groups exhibit marked inclinations in favor of either posture or speech. Avoiding the nature/nurture conundrum, it is enough to note that the phenomenon exists. We need not commit political suicide by attempting to explain it.
We now turn to the article “Greek Particles” by our learned colleague, R.S. Sriyatha. Sriyatha postulates that certain Greek particles, traditionally translated to “moreover,” “thereupon,” etc. would be more aptly rendered as “um,” “you know,” etc, respectively.
While the undersigned author acknowledges that he has no understanding of the Greek language whatever, he must beg to differ with the above conclusions.
Sriyatha assumes that the current state of the posture/speech continuum as found, for instance, in the Watergate tapes, ibid., existed unaltered throughout the history of man, unaffected by differences of climate, culture and technology. On the contrary, the Posture/Speech situation in any given culture and age is a matter of constantly shifting balance. Even within a particular culture, certain subgroups display greater mental powers than the norm and a concomitant awkwardness. (See Pulju, A Short History of American Linguistics, where scientists are described as bespectacled persons with poor posture.)
In controlled laboratory tests, even the same subjects were shown to improve their ability to articulate by sacrificing their posture.
Compare (1) above spoken while standing at attention with (2) spoken by the same subject while slouching. Similar results were obtained from laboratory mice under much the same circumstances.
In conclusion, it may very well be that a perfect written transcription from actual speech is the result in those cultures or situations where attention to posture is minimized. And the Greeks, who were no slouches when it came to rhetoric, may indeed have slouched when delivering an oration.––––Uriah Dillsworth, Warly, Midlands, U.K.