June 08, 2007

A kinder, gentler speech error

Speaking of speech errors, Wednesday's News Hour featured a particularly interesting one (to me). It happened during Jeffrey Brown's interview with freelance journalist Brian Mockenhaupt, a "[f]ormer soldier [who] wrote in the Atlantic Monthly about the Army's struggle to fill its ranks with a generation less willing and able to serve than in years past." Beginning around minute 3:48 of the .mp3 of the interview, Mockenhaupt says the following:

And that's where you see the shift to what some people call the kinder and gentler basic training. (audio)

The "kinder and gentler" bit is of course a (very indirect) reference to Bush Sr.'s call for "a kinder and gentler nation" (also cynically referenced in a military context by Neil Young in Rockin' in the Free World: "We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand").

That isn't the speech error (though Mockenhaupt's production of the "tl" cluster in "gentler", such that it sounds something like "genchler", is also somewhat interesting). The speech error I'm thinking of occurred when Jeffrey Brown repeated the "kinder and gentler" bit -- twice -- as "kindler, gentler":

And you describe in your article the two styles here of the shock that we're all kind of familiar with, either from experience or from movies, and this kinder, gentler approach that you're describing. (audio of italicized portion, beginning around minute 4:45 of the interview)

Well, in terms of results, what did the military people that you talked to, what did they say about the type of soldier that comes out of this -- call it the kinder, gentler training? (audio of italicized portion, beginning around minute 5:31 of the interview)

Brown is clearly anticipating the "tl" cluster in "gentler" as he's producing "kinder", and this anticipation is facilitated by the overall similarity between the ends of the two words: the "nder" at the end of "kinder" differs from the "ntler" at the end of "gentler" mostly in the "l" found in the latter but not in the former; "t" and "d" are both alveolar stops differing only in voicing (and, in this case, in the fact that the "d" is released into the "er" while the "t" is released into the "l").

Anticipatory speech errors of this kind are common, and I imagine that they are especially common when there is already a certain amount of similarity between the word in which the error occurs and the word that "triggers" the error. I have nothing but intuition to guide my imagination here, though, so I should probably spend some time searching through the excellent Fromkins Speech Error Database at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. The database is named for the late, great Vicki Fromkin, a pioneer in speech error research and the original developer of the database -- read more about it here.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at June 8, 2007 04:56 PM