Shaggy Spoken Languages

Spoken language and written language have traditionally been like different languages all together, sometimes in actuality and sometimes in the level of formality within the common language that both actually share. It makes me wonder about a language like Japanese with distinct levels of spoken formality. How has the history of written language played a role in this formality distinction? Is it because writing has played a less important role for the average person in Japan, that the formality distinction developed more in the spoken realm?

The public use of language in the western world has become less formal over the years, in an unprecedented way. Written language is a worked on creation, spoken language is chaotic with less things like subordinate clauses, or general structure. Written language is an artifice (more efficient for things like extended arguments), while spoken language is fundamental, shaggy, often repetitive, and highly dependent on context.

Digital literacies, which I feel share more in common with spoken language than written language, are also highly dependent on context.

Spoken language tends to come in chunks of 7 (or so) as evidence by early writing that was transcribed orals stories. Likely, this would be tied to the 5-7 rule, that limits an average human working memory to chunks of approximately 7 units. And, unlike the writings of Shakespeare and other European literature, people never spoke in witty book-like dialogs – one reason I tend to dislike Kevin Smith movies, the dialog is just too scripted with the intent of trying to sound not.

McWhorter gives some examples of an old radio show called Candid Microphone to show how people spoke in everyday conversations. To think the ability to hear the audio recordings of past humans is less than a century old – how will this affect the spoken word of the future? People of 500 years in the future might be able to relate to our times much easier than we today can understand what it would have been like to live a half century ago. 

Link to the first post in this series is here.


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