Etymology and Definitions—Joseph P. Stemberger Lingua Pranca Contents Bilingualism in Rats: A Ten-Year Study—Loraine Obler

Empty Speech:
The Non-Certifiably Brain-Damaged

(A paper for oral presentation)

Loraine Obler

I always like to start a formal lecture off with a joke, you know, to relax the audience or at least myself (pause) but that will have to suffice, because time limitations being what they are, I want to elaborate the serious side of my topic.

First, I plan to lay my hypotheses in front of you, so that they may be clearly articulated. Then to discuss what experimentation, and I think at this stage of the studies “experimentation” is a fair and useful term to apply to the work which has been underway in our laboratory, which has in fact been performed to resolve them, and finally to speculate on the significance of the data, and particularly the potentials for further study in this field.

Let me state my hypothesis briefly because we may have started this session a bit late and I don’t know exactly how long it will take me to present this paper, although I assure you I have read it through a number of times, but I know that it has always taken me longer than the 15 minutes allotted me so I’ll just have to read it at a quick pace and I’ll appreciate your attention because I know that complex topics such as this one, even in the best structured talks, may lead to confusion when read at greater than normal pace. In any case, I should tell you I had planned to include a number of fairly extensive quotations from the work of other scientists, both in my field and in related ones, which pertain, to greater or lesser degree, to the topic at hand. Well I know it’s difficult to follow such extensive quotes, which were of course intended to be read by a reader to himself or herself, when they are read aloud and monotonously by a lecturer, so perhaps I will just shuffle through these pages right now and delete them. (shuffle) Now I hope I haven’t cut out any important transitions but let’s just assume I haven’t and get on with the talk, which, as you know thanks to Dr. ______ who so graciously in his or her introduction convinced you that I needed no introducing and of course from your program where the title of this talk is written, I am here to talk about, well to report on, or if you will to digress on, a phenomenon we have taken to calling, for want of a better term, (by the way please do not think the terminology, not to mention the concept, is itself not controversial, indeed there are numerous scholars who use related concepts which are labelled by terms related semantically, if not philologically, which is to say through meaning if not cognateness, or perhaps better, through function if not form). Wellmy topic here this morning, which I bring forth for your observation and comment, is empty speech (pause) of course, I refer to empty speech in the subject who does not have certifiable brain damage and I think before I launch into the specifics of the experimental projects I plan to review here, I must analyze the term empty speech, although I can see that time is moving on, and I will perhaps not have the opportunity to present you with the exemplary segments of empty speech I have taped and brought with me by way of example. Empty speech, of course, must be distinguished from silent speech, inasmuch as empty speech sounds (looks up) ha hayou perhaps have previously been unwilling to consider the verb sound as intransitive, but in this context I suspect you may appreciate the implicationsin any caseNot only, of course, does empty speech differ from silent speech, which can be either inner speech, or whispering, but empty speech in fact must be distinguished from hesitant speech which some might consider empty in the literal sense of that term, since so much of speech time is in fact not filled with speech, but rather with pausesand “not filled” is precisely, we could argue, what we mean by emptynotice I employ the term mean here, as a sort of transition to the interpretation which I in fact mean to, or you might prefer, intend to, follow when I talk of empty speech. Thus I intend reference to speech which shares all the qualities of speech as we commonly refer to it, speech, I might be so bold as to say, such as that which I am now producing in the course of presenting this paperbut speech which, unlike, I would hope, the speech of this talk, which is devoid, to a great degree, of what has been called by philosophers among others, and psychologists and linguists (who of course regularly employ the term, if only fuzzily the concept) meaning. Now the appellation empty speech, as a noun phrase consisting of adjective and noun conjoined, has been studied to some extent among brain-damaged patients, and there are some, cynics I must say, who have considered it to be a register of English which must be mastered before one can become a full-fledged administrator in our society. This concept, or notion, or dialect if you will, has gone underdiscussed with respect to normal subjects, which is to say, people who are suffering neither from brain damage, nor from aspiration to, or I might pun illusions of, administratorship. Indeed, or should one emphasize by saying moreover, precisely, or even, among our peers, the academics with whom we meet every day, and engage in conversation, in the office, in the corridor, on the way to lunch and after work at, say, a bus stop or a bar (but do not think that this syndrome will occur only under the influence of alcohol)the skillful practitionerand you will have noted I have subtly (I like to think) shifted from viewing this phenomenon as a syndrome with all the negative connotations that word has, as if the use of empty speech were undesirable, to consider it a skill, a talent if you will.

Well, I might at this point, justifiably in my estimation, describe for you, in as great detail as time permits of course, the subject sampling technique we employed, and the procedures which we methodologically employed. Subjects were chosen randomly, or pseudorandomly for the sticklers among you. Let it not be thought that I select conferences to attend on other than the strictest criteria of localization, as subjects were all the participants attending and presenting papersThis condition was added so we could be assured of equivalent corpuses of text from each subjectotherwise only the limited group of those who found us useful would have bothered to converse with us for the time necessary to collect a sizable speech sample, those people then participating and presenting papers at the last 15 conferences I have been obliged to attend. Grossly observable incidence of brain damage was excluded by noting whether the subject used both hands in either gesturing or clutching the lectern during the course of her/his presentation. Curiously, given the size group one encounters at any given conference, only 12% of the total population were adjudged brain-damaged on the basis of these criteria, and in fact most of these were instances of tripping over the numerous wires barring their way to the lectern, so it is impossible to ascertain if these individuals were in fact brain-damaged. Nevertheless, in order to keep our sample clean, they have been excluded from analysis. The remaining 78% of subjects had, as the sub-title of this paper indicates, no certifiable assessable brain damage, although, of course, we cannot rule out nervous disorders in their entire range, which in fact, are known to be somewhat more prevalent among such a population.

Ohmy time is almost up? Well, I have hardly managed to present you, except perhaps skeletally, with details of the experimentation and statistical analyses, both qualitative and quantitative, which, it must be admitted, are still only in preliminary stages, both inasmuch as they have not been run yet on a subject sample, selection of which is still going onwell, I see I have (stop, count) 7 more pages, which should take me (stop, calculate) at the rate I’ve been talkingwell, quite a bit longer, so why don’t I spare you the speculations, and conclude by summarizing the several main points of the paper. First, however, let me, by way of acknowledgment, thank my colleagues who have provided me with the stimulation necessary to conceive of the idea behind this paper, and my teachers who have initiated me into the intricacies of successful practice in academe. Of course they are all irresponsible, and only I am responsible, even accredited, for the content of this paper. The government has been so kind as to support this work, and I do trust they get something out of it.

Let me conclude by saying that I do not suppose this is the final word on the topic of empty speech. Empty speech will be with us, I may predict not immodestly, for some time to come, and it is to be hoped that in studying it with our sharpest scientific tools, we may achieve a stage in societal evolution at which its benefits, as well as its potential dangers, may be accurately as well as thoroughly described, and methods developed for encouraging healthy and sophisticated use among aspirants to the status which thoughtful use of empty speech can confer.

Thank you.

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Alex Halle, the father of modern phonerative geneology, and author of Stems, will lecture on

        “Searching [High] and [Low]”

Smith Hall, Monday 8 p.m.

Etymology and Definitions—Joseph P. Stemberger
Bilingualism in Rats: A Ten-Year Study—Loraine Obler
Lingua Pranca Contents