A Deborah Tannen article from the Washington Post mixes together several vaguely related topics: the fact that people in some regions talk more quickly than those in others, the stereotypes and misunderstandings that result, and the tendency of tv shows to have actors read lines ever faster (with resulting problems of understanding for the audience). She then tosses in a totally unrelated (and by now stale) topic, IM-speak (“‘You’ becomes ‘u,’ and ‘lol’ is understood to mean ‘your message is making me laugh out loud'”—u don’t say!). But Tannen is always worth reading, and she throws in a good anecdote about the slow-talking folk from Häme. (Thanks to Dave Bonta for the link.)


  1. Deborah Tannen, who is a warm as can be in person, makes a lot of sense. My parents, geographically and ethnically similar to Dr. Tannen’s, have always criticized my uncle’s wife as not being too bright. She speaks slowly, at least compared to New Yorkers, pauses a great deal and exhibits the kind of speech behavior as the professor described. Plus she’s a southerner and not a member of our ethno-cultural and religious sub group. It’s taken me years to figure it out (our family should have had Dr. Tannen’s article) but there’s nothing wrong with my aunt’s mind: she just observes differing sociolinguistic norms.

  2. I heard a Finnish joke, not about how slow Finns talk, but about how little they talk:
    A man visits his friend. The friend pours two drinks and they sit down on the balcony to watch the sun set. After the last rays of the setting sun finally disappear, the man turns to his friend and says: “Cheers!” His friend turns to him and scolds: “Did you come her to drink or to talk?”

  3. But she’s all wrong about whether people catch the nuances of words in television shows.

  4. Where I used to work there was one lab which was famous for being staffed by untalkative people (shy, passive-aggressive, obsessive, private, secretive…. the lab had a reputation.) A Finnish woman who worked with us but not in that lab happened to have lunch with several of the group. Afterwards she said “In half an hour six people didn’t speak a single word. I thought I was back in Finland”. So it must be true.
    Oddly, Finnland is the most wired place in the world, at least for cell phones. Apparently phone conversation is easier.

  5. Or maybe they call each other not to talk but to engage in silent communion.

  6. bill reith says

    A strong second vote for how nice she is — I sent her an email out of the blue, praising one of her books — and crudely mentioned that I had gotten it at a used book sale. How many authors like to hear that? Yet she was pleasant and friendly in her response…..

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