Written books and texts are highly regarded, but spoken language and conversation are the natural foundation of human life. It’s clear that regular conversations contribute to happiness in life, according to Recent Research with recording devices. The same clever research also shows how often people talk: about a third of the time they are awake. With great personal differences, happy people have more conversations.
Even people who read for fun are Not necessarily happier. And when we think deeply – on our own – it is usually in the form of a internal conversation. As a number of psychologists summarized the case last year In the scientific journal PNAS“The conversation is so universal and ubiquitous that astronauts can easily conclude that humans are primarily designed to eat, sleep, and vibrate with each other’s vocal cords.”
The research that PNAS psychologists wrote about was itself evidence of an intense culture of speaking and listening in humans. They investigated a phenomenon that everyone knows, but has not been researched much: how incredibly difficult it is to end a conversation. Analysis of nearly a thousand conversations led to the conclusion that the conversation never ends when both participants want it. This is as true for short conversations as it is for long discussions and conversations with strangers as it is for those with close acquaintances.
People have almost no idea when a conversation partner has had enough of talking. With all the audacity with which people often discuss difficult topics among themselves, being open about wanting to end the conversation is an insult. Psychologists rightly see this as a problem of mutual coordination that can best be solved. But this phenomenon is also a monument to the culture of human speech, which goes on and on.
Humans are communication machines and speech is their tool
Until recently, all this talk was not particularly interesting to science, it was just normal. Linguists have looked primarily at the written text. It’s only in recent decades that more research on conversations has been done, especially because computers seem unable to handle rapid changes in roles in dialogue: too many quick interactions, intrusions, short answers, interjections, and little chimes. The conversation pause lasts only 200 milliseconds and then the conversation partner takes over again, usually at the right moment in terms of content. Ordinary conversation runs so smoothly that any hesitation or pause is quickly interpreted as refusal, as Dutch psychologist Mark Dengemansi wrote of such fluidity in conversation in Scientific American. Dingemanse also discovered that the previously unexplored word “huh” is used worldwide as a quick peek to ask for clarification.
Humans are communication machines and speech is their tool. Speech and language probably evolved several hundred thousand years ago. Written language has been added in the past few millennia, and is the preeminent tool of order and rational thinking. As anthropologist Jack Goody once described it in his colossal book Domestication of the savage mind (1977): Writing is above all a thinking tool by which concepts can become impersonal and abstract lists become possible.
In spoken language, words are closely related to the person of the speaker, including much of the emotional and nonverbal context.
Only in writing can the idea be considered truly “cold” and only in writing does the formulation acquire accuracy. This is exactly why it is more difficult to listen to a lecture than to listen to a conversation, which is why writing is much more difficult than speaking.
It suddenly became difficult to form alone behind a desk, without interacting with anyone else.Correction (November 3, 2022) Mark Dengemanci’s first name has been corrected: Mark with the letter K.
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