It is surprising and, I think, important that I often — regularly — scramble formulaic phrases, those common, familiar sentences or clauses that we repeat everyday.

Some linguists think that the mind stores formulaic phrases, like “whatayaknow” or “gotta go,” as single symbols without internal grammatical parts, as if “whatayaknow” were a bit like a single word: a whole sentence-word like just another part of speech like noun or verb. To speak these, you wouldn’t need any internal syntax — you’d simply use the whole phrase as a unit. My frequent scrambling of them implies that such forumlas are not represented as single symbols, but have syntactic complexity in the mind.

There are a great many such formulas and sentence schemes, so many that it’s possible to get along through much of practical life using little else. In most social interactions we don’t expect intricate ideas, and prefer a least common denominator, avoiding the personal feelings and thoughts that might diverge from the formulaic, both socially and linguistically. Personal conversations, by contrast, often require inventive sentences that can place greater pressure on grammar. It’s harder to express the personal without peculiarities. But those personal conversations don’t play so much a part in the practical world of superficial life.

It might seem hopeful, if formulas were single symbols, that social interaction would be simpler for the aphasic who has trouble with internal syntax. In my case, exactly the opposite often appears. The formulas rush out with the familiarity of ease, but scrambled, sometimes leaving me a bit puzzled when they don’t work right at the end. Here are a few, mostly from phone conversations:

1. “I can’t deal it”

intending: I can’t deal with it

(dropped preposition)

2. “you might try it this one too”

intending: you might try this one too/you might try it too

(pleonastic pronoun — conflation of two forumlas)

3. “this is fuckin a bummer”

intending: this is a fuckin bummer

(restored syntactic integrity)

4. “It’s the oldest my friend”

intending: It’s my oldest friend / friendship

(pleonastic determiner: the/my)

5. “Your boss doesn’t know from his ass…from his elbow”

intending: Your boss doesn’t know his ass from his elbow

(pleonastic preposition)

6. “get out some light”

intending: get some light out (i.e. outside)

7. “just we gotta go”

intending: we just gotta go

(restored formula — as if it were a single, inviolable symbol)

8. “I don’t know where they found.”

intending: I don’t know where I found them

(dropped pronoun)

9. “My neighbors make upstairs a lot of noise”

intending: My neighbors upstairs make a lot of noise

(displaced modifier between noun and verb)

10. “time is too short”

spoken with long hesitation and careful thought to get it right

(insertion into a formula of an intensifier)

11. “For all of my … best friend I haven’t seen him since”

intending: For all the good of having a best friend, I haven’t seen him since

(complex relation between experiencer, two propositions and the matrix statement)

12. “But it won’t severe”

intending: but it won’t be severe

(verb drop — maybe not a formula, but a simple, common form)


4 Responses to “scrambled”

  1. Dorothy Ross Says:

    Several of the phrases look like you started to make one phrase, and then changed to another, similar phrase in the the middle.

    2. “you might try it this one too”
    is “you might try it”, then added on “[you might try] this one too”

    4. “It’s the oldest my friend”
    is “It’s the oldest [friend I have]” plus “[It’s the oldest of] my friend”

    8. “I don’t know where they found.”
    is “I don’t know where they [were] plus “[I don’t know where I] found [them]”

    This following is unrelated, but I heard another new noun to verb use last night on the Olympics coverage on TV:”She has another chance to metal tomorrow” meaning, “She has another chance to win a metal tomorrow”

    • rob Says:

      I’m glad you noticed that. Is it a common problem for aphasia or for a certain variety of aphasias? It seems fairly common for me.

  2. Schwa Says:

    Dorothy’s notice of “she has another chance to…metal tomorrow” makes me think this is your chance, Rob, of redefining the English language!! I mean, we’re ready for it, the way we so readily turn nouns into verbs (google, netflix, facebook, metal). Let’s hear it for simplification by the elimination of excess words! 😉

    • rob Says:

      I wonder whether the newscaster meant “metal” or “medal” — both works, “to win a medal” is literal, and in “to win gold, silver or bronze” the three metals are a synecdoche for ‘award.’
      Given the prevalence of synecdoche in news — where the *Whitehouse* speaks, *Canada* wins *gold*, *Vancouver* is excited to host the games, *Toyota* recalls and announces apologies — I wouldn’t be surprised if he meant “metal,” in which case it’s a doubly oblique trope: verb for noun and metal for award.
      And then I wonder whether different newscasters interpret as one or the other — and also which preference shows literalness or abstraction: “medal” is rhetorically literal, but the idea is abstract (an award), whereas “metal” is rhetorically imaginative (‘metal’ for ‘award’), but the metals — gold, silver and bronze — are physical, palpable, visible, less abstract. Now I want to interview newscasters and their listeners on their interpretation and test them independently for abstraction over physical inclination and literal-mindedness. (Now you can see why I was having a great time during the stroke, even when I couldn’t remember my own name.)

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