April 13, 2005

Pledge break psycholinguistics: perception

NPR pledge week is now (oh, praise God), behind us. I didn't send in my check. I will real soon. But I swear that one of the reasons I never did during those days of program interruptions and local-studio beseechment and blather was that I couldn't catch the phone numbers. They kept saying them, constantly; but they insisted on saying the local phone number and the 800 number all together in a big rush so that you heard eighteen digits all at once and couldn't remember any of them. Try the experiment: say to someone very loudly and suddenly, "Three seven five seven two seven five one eight hundred nine oh three six six two four call now the volunteers are waiting to take your calls we have two on the line right now we need one more call before we return to NPR's Morning Edition!", and then ask them to tell you either of the phone numbers. You just can't.

Why the people at the station babbling on the microphones don't realize this I just don't know. It's like the way highway authorities don't realize that when you put ONLY LANE BIKE on the road it doesn't look like "Bike lane only", it looks like "Only lane bike." Nobody seems to have any intuitive grasp of how other people's linguistic perception mechanisms work. The obvious argument would be that if you can't memorize either of two phone numbers when they are given to you at high speed in quick succession with a whole lot of words following them, then neither can they. But no one at my public radio station seems to be able to put themselves in the listener's place.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at April 13, 2005 07:11 PM