Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You should have heard it before I said it

This clip has been making the rounds. Watch it if you must. But note that I'm not intent on making unkind jokes.

Here's how I transcribed the clip--leaving out all the 'um's 'er's and 'uh's.

Aimee Teegarden: Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?

Lauren Caitlin Upton: I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education--like such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere--like such as--and I believe that they should (our education over here in the us) should help the U.S....or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our...

Issue #1: Its disturbing to see the questioner given a name while Lauren Caitlin Upton is simply "South Carolina." She has an identity other than her home state. This is just one of the problems I have with pageants.

Issue #2: Or rather the non-issue here is intelligence. This is probably all about nerves and a temporary collapse in fluency. I've been there. We've all been there. Some of these disfluencies are clearly more than a simple stammer--there's evidence of extreme emotion affecting her speech. Repeating "like such as" is the type of halt that comes from a profound confusion regarding such simple phrases as "such as" and "like so" or "like such." Probably temporary.

My disfluencies are commonly the repetition of a frozen murmur like "and uh..." or "but uh..." or "and so..." The phrases usually end in a meaningless extension. The mumbly uhhh... or a word like "so" that often leads into an unstated implication. Something like "I'm...uh...really hungry. Uh...so..." But she ends the phrase "like such as" with a clear sense of the completed thought. Just because it's fresh in her memory it becomes her tie-over phrase even tho it doesn't work.

Her confusion reminds me of the odd responses I've often uttered when nervous and confused and anxiously anticipating the importance of a specific appropriate response. Many many years ago I took a phone call from a pretty young lady and I expected she was going to say she missed me. She opened with "How are you?" and I responded with "Good. Me too!" She said "What?" and I shot back with "Yeah...I know!"

With enough charity of interpretation her thoughts might reasonably be paraphrased as "The educational system here in the US has gaps just like those that exist in other countries. Remedying these gaps would help not only the US but would allow us in turn to help other countries."

Say what you will about about clichés and simplistic arguments. But if she had used those words to express the same ideas no one would be saying anything about Lauren's intelligence.


  1. When I heard this the first time, I thought the premise of the question was given as "(only) a fifth of Americans can locate the US of a world map" (I thought I heard the 'only' only in retrospect, to make sense of the seemingly stressed 'can'). Obviously I now know I heard it wrong, but the fact that I heard it as I did, is interesting.

    US pronunciation conflates the vowel in (stressed) can and can't, in both length and quality, and the two differ only by the non-released 't', which surfaces as a glottal closure. They are [kæ:n] and [kæ:nʡ]. In my pronunciation however, these two are much more distinct. The vowel quality and length is different, [kæn] versus [ka:nʡ]. Then, thinking I heard a stressed 'can' (my laptop speakers are terrible), it would only have made sense if it were 'only a fifth' as opposed to merely 'a fifth'.

    Sorry for that completely irrelevant nonsense.

    Is it true though, that a fifth of Americans can't locate the US on a map? That's appalling if it is.

    And by the way, at the very end, when the microphone is moved away, it appears as though she said 'future for our children', though it's hard to tell, her pathological smile isn't highly conducive to audible speech.

  2. w/r/t "South Carolina" v. "Lauren Caitlin Upton" - Actually, it seems like the goal of contestants in pageants - at least nominally - IS to represent their home state, home town, home nation, etc. She is, in a presumably very prideful way, supposed to BE (to embody) South Carolina; she is not there to be Lauren Caitlin Upton. This is why they have people from every state, and why pageants start at the local level, moving up to regional, state, nation, etc.

    Not saying I agree with pageants (I had a lot of experience with them growing up - don't ask - and they are very, very scary), and also not saying that it's a *good* thing that they are supposed to be depersonalized in this way. But that is kind of the whole game, so.

  3. pc: Yeah. That name/state label thing symbolizes for me "the whole game" which is why I don't like it.

    Of course the manner in which anyone wants to show pride is their business more than mine. If its even my business at all.

    j: There are some absolute conflations of the final consonant of "can" and "can't" in AE as well. I think I have that topic backlogged somewhere.

  4. Michael, I've been meaning to ask you (and this is the perfect time):

    Do you think there's any reason at all that "our generation" chose to insert the word "like" whenever it seemed (un)necessary? The filler-word could as well have been "so" or "see" or "shimmy" or anything else, right?

    The answer that would be most titillating here has to do with "correspondence" and likeness, but I'm mostly confident that you won't gratify me that much.

  5. I'll get back to you on that Casey.

    Oh yes--Jaŋari: I heard that affricate in there and I think she cut it short when the mic moved away. I had the "ch-" written in there for a while but I removed it for some reason.

  6. I first heard Miss Upton on the radio, framed not very flatteringly by the country music DJ. I found her response pretty laughable and judged it unfairly given my bias against her South Carolinian accent and what seemed to be an attempt to sound intelligent. Even the second time, her "uh" right before "some" sounded like Osama to me, which didn't help matters.

    Take luck.

  7. Nice recovery by A/C Slater...he's like...like...so dreamy.

  8. I'm glad someone else is being compassionate. I wish everyone would cut the girl some slack.

  9. Yes, you are quite charitable, and it has reminded me to be so as well. I suppose she is really just evidence of two things: a less than stellar educational system; and the creepy monster called "Pageant" that destroys people on a regular basis.


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