Nick Enfield - How We Talk - Sunday 10th December

In conversation with Charles Firth

We all had teachers who scolded us over the use of um, oh, uh-huh, like, and mm-hmm. But these “bad words” are fundamental to speech. They prevent us from talking over one another. They show that we’re paying attention. And they keep the rhythm of conversation on beat.
As linguist N. J. Enfield argues in How We Talk, language is about more than just sharing information—it’s about cooperation. Conversation is grounded in social cognitive processing. Across languages, it takes only 200 milliseconds to respond to a question—less time than it takes to decide to speak, which means we can predict when to start talking. To do that, we rely on language’s most innocuous—and most shunned—bits. We don’t always acknowledge the importance of a rising tone of cognition, and held together by a moral code of conduct combined with high-speed voice, a nearly meaningless word, a silence, or a side glance. Linguists have largely overlooked them too. But without these cues, we’d be truly lost.
From the traffic signals of speech to the one universal word, How We Talk revolutionizes our understanding of conversation. In the process, Enfield reveals what makes language universally—and uniquely—human.

We all had teachers who scolded us over the use of um, uh-huh, oh, like, and mm-hmm. But as linguist N. J. Enfield reveals in How We Talk, these "bad words" are fundamental to language.
Whether we are speaking with the clerk at the store, our boss, or our spouse, language is dependent on things as commonplace as a rising tone of voice, an apparently meaningless word, or a glance--signals so small that we hardly pay them any conscious attention. Nevertheless, they are the essence of how we speak. From the traffic signals of speech to the importance of um, How We Talk revolutionizes our understanding of conversation. In the process, Enfield reveals what makes language universally--and uniquely--human.

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Date and time: Sunday 10th December, 3.30 for 4pm

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