How Does Speech Error Betray Thought? Term Paper

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Slips

If it's not one thing it's your mother'

Parapraxis and the Sense of Nonsense

Slips of the tongue, lapsus linguae, parapraxes or fehlleistung are many different ways to say, perhaps, the same thing. During the course of our lives we all certainly have made an error or two in speech. By this we mean not saying what we had originally intended, which has often lead to either humorous, quite embarrassing or even disastrous results. It is these linguistics mishaps that will be addressed in this paper and they will generally be referred to by their more scientific appellation, parapraxis. Generally these parapraxes have been researched within two scientific categories, originally the purview of the branch of science known as linguistics, now also the discipline of psychology has gained an eager interest in them. Linguists are mainly concerned with the mechanics behind these slips while psychologist feel that they can often hold an inner meaning when viewed as the inklings of the sub-conscious mind revealing itself. There is also a current school of thought that now views them as merely redundant habits of mind that we are prey to as well as simply just mistakes that often happen in very complex organisms like the brain of a human being

Lapsus Linguea, Latin for slips of the tongue, have been around since most probably before the Latin language itself. Poets and scientists alike have always held a fascination for them. For the artist they can create a feeling of irony or satire, for the scientist they can reveal more about the mystery of human language itself and for the psychologist and exploration of the ID. It is commonly assumed that the discovery, or rather the popularization of speech errors, is attributed to Sigmund Freud. He combined them together with a much wider range of errors that he termed in German, fehlleistung, or faulty actions. These are actions performed by either speech or deed.

It is not known exactly how he term 'Freudian Slip' came into its current usage, but it is generally attributed to the American psychiatrist a.A. Brill who translated a copy of Freud's book, the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in 1914 and used the word slip to refer to these mistakes. (Wang 2003:43) Culture and language took over and the term Freudian Slip came into being and is now the more common term for speech errors used by laymen today. However even Freud noted in his book that he was not the first to observe these parapraxes. His linguistic predecessors, Merringer and Mayer, were the one of the first to really analyze and catalogue these errors in human speech.

I am in the exceptional position of being about to refer to a previous work on the subject. In the year 1895 Meringer and C. Mayer published a study on Mistakes in Speech and Reading, with whose view-points I do not agree. One of the authors, who is the spokesman in the text, is a philologist actuated by a linguistic interest to examine the rules governing those slips. He hoped to deduce from these rules the existence 'of a definite psychic mechanism,' 'whereby the sounds of a word, of a sentence, and even the words themselves, would be associated and connected with one another in a quite peculiar manner. (Freud 1916:72)

Merringer and Mayer conducted a more traditional analysis that categorized these errors within a more linguistic and phonetic organisation as relating to language usage and syntax. However, as Freud attests, he did not totally agree that it was simply a mechanical phenomenon without any relevance to the psyche or the unconscious mind. He analyzed them as if they were processes that would circumvent our usual restraint system and cause certain darker parts of our nature to surface, the unconscious mind in particular. He felt that speech blunders as well as other forms of fehlleistungs were a way to tell everyone what one was rally thinking without it being couched in a more civilized fashion:

In other and more significant cases it is a self-criticism, an internal contradiction against one's own utterance, which causes the speechblunder, and even forces a contrasting substitution for the one intended. We then observe with surprise how the wording of an assertion removes the purpose of the same, and how the error in speech lays bare the inner dishonesty. Here the lapsus linguœ becomes a mimicking form of expression, often, indeed, for the expression of what one does not wish to say. It is thus a means of self-betrayal. (Freud 1916:101)

While Merringer and Mayer certainly had a point that many blunders in speech were simply a mechanical effective error caused by sounds that the brain hears and then relates them to other words with similar sounds or patterns, Freud still objected that this should not be the only explanation:

Among the examples of the mistakes in speech collected by me I can scarcely find one in which I would be obliged to attribute the speech disturbance simply and solely to what Wundt calls "contact effect of sound." Almost invariably I discover besides this a disturbing influence of something outside of the intended speech. The disturbing element is either a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the speechblunder, and can only be brought to consciousness through a searching analysis, or it is a more general psychic motive, which directs itself against the entire speech. (Freud 1916:80)

Freud also realised that there are certainly occasions when these errors in speech were simply just mistakes and not associated with any larger psychic relevance (sometimes a Cigar is just a cigar). He came up with the following criteria to judge when these error had an important position in psychoanalysis:

In order to belong to this class of phenomena thus explained a faulty psychic action must satisfy the following conditions:

a. It must not exceed a certain measure, which is firmly established through our estimation, and is designated by the expression "within normal limits." b. It must evince the character of the momentary and temporary disturbance. The same action must have been previously performed more correctly, or we must always rely on ourselves to perform it more correctly; if we are corrected by others we must immediately recognize the truth of the correction and the incorrectness of our psychic action.

c. If we at all perceive a faulty action, we must not perceive in ourselves any motivation of the same, but must attempt to explain it through "inattention" or attribute it to an "accident." (Freud 1916:278)

Freud may be much maligned in some circles, even by some of his pupil like Jung, but it was his distinction to set the world of psychology on the road to the unconscious. Through dreams, nightmares, and even these slips of the tongue he perceived a depth of narrative clues and symbolic interpretations that had the potential to reveal heretofore unknown territories of the psyche. These areas had previously held a secret lock on our psyches until Freud puzzled over them and gave these errors of speech more significance than anyone had previously imagined. (Coles, 2000, p. 1)

It was a triumph for the interpretative art of psychoanalysis when it succeeded in demonstrating that certain common mental acts of normal people, for which no one had hitherto attempted to put forward a psychological explanation, were to be regarded in the same light as the symptoms of neurotics: that is to say, they had a meaning, which was unknown to the subject but which could easily be discovered by analytic means. (Strachey 1959: 113)

There are now as many ways of looking at parapraxes as there are names for the phenomena. Linguists tend to separated them into their phonetic and semantic categories while psychologist look at them for what they may reveal on an more individual case by case basis. After Merringer and Mayer conducted their initial analysis, other linguist pick up the quest and began to further examine the theoretical reasons behind errors in speech. According to linguistics, a speech error is generally defined as a statement or expression, either written or spoken that is different from the intended wording that the speaker or writer planned. However, these errors have certain systematic properties that define them in some more specific way. (Fromkin 1980: 13; Loritz 2002: 117) Furthermore, when the person is told of what they have done, often they do not believe or even realise they have done so, often vehemently denying it until they are confronted by a contrary view from their audience. They then immediately perceive the error and attempt to excuse or ignore it. (Aitchison 1998: 244)

If, then, prohibited strivings may distort ideas or replace them by others, there is sufficient reason to assume that memories in general are brought to consciousness by those strivings which they express. It is, however, only in parapraxes and other extreme cases that this becomes palpable. If this interpretation of parapraxes is correct, psychoanalytic theory and experience have implications concerning… [END OF PREVIEW]

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