Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yes and no?

It is fun to listen as closely as I can to exactly what people say.  I read a while back that the governor, a former professor of speech and rhetoric, ordered his staff to write exactly and precisely what he had said orally when they reported his remarks.  Shortly after, he changed his order to tell them to clean up what he actually said so that the result was good language and easily read.  Despite his desire to have accurate reports of his statements, he also wanted grammatical press releases containing straightforward language, without any false starts, repetitions, and such tongue trips omitted.  

We can all spot little utterances in the speech of others that "weren't really meant" and should be ignored as messages.  When we listen to others speaking, we know how to apply filters and variances to take the speaker's meaning.  But what happens if we really listen, exactly?  What do we hear?  Sometimes, I hear someone say, "Yes, no" or "No, yes".  That gets my attention.  They agree and they don't ??

I have read that those raised in the tradition of the West, the nations influenced by the Greeks, Christianity, Europeans in general and so, Americans, tend to think in dichotomies.  The idea is that we have languages, logic and tradition that all focus on avoiding contradiction, speaking against ourselves.  We like to think that a horse cannot be both big and not big at the same time.  We may split the unity of the horse and think that he has a big back but not big legs but the back, we like to think cannot be both big and not-big.  We can differ in our judgments as to which category, A or not-A, something is but we usually assume it can't really be both at the same time.

I have found that sometimes the yea and nay speaker is addressing two questions: yes, this is me and no, I don't want to come over.  But I have developed an interest in noticing times when I hear both affirmative and negative, and sometimes it seems that both utterances are part of a sort of introduction.  If I say "Hi", you will probably not say "Wrong!"  The function of the utterance Hi is neither to affirm or deny.  Sometimes, when people begin a conversation, they start with "yes" or "yeah".  I think they are trying to be close to their listener, to strike a note of unity and friendliness.  Sometimes, I may change my mind.  You say, "Want to come over?" and I utter "Yes" and immediately remember that my cousin is coming here and I can't leave just now so you hear "Yes, no, my cousin is coming."  You know perfectly well what I mean.

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