Episode 4: The Gap

photo: <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/elkit/2880611989/'>elkit</a>

photo: elkit


From media personalities to parents and politicians, there's a drive to sound more conversational and less authoritative. Sure, there's virtue in people talking to people, but in our society, the voice of authority may be losing out. We'll explore the gap between slower, formal English and faster, conversational English, taking a look at how parents talk to their children, how politicians and broadcasters speak to us, and how faster speech is jumbling our brains.


Politicians have to navigate two worlds: the old world of the podium, and the new world of instant communication. And some do it more successfully than others. We'll hear from speech writer Scott Reid about the gap between authoritative and conversational political language. 

Even in the media's drive to sound more conversational, you still hear broadcasters using a more serious tone and vocabulary. But it's gradually being offset by unscripted and chattier shows. We'll talk about that gap with veteran CBC journalist Alison Smith, host of the World at Six and Daryn Jones, former co-host of MTV Live, and host of CBC-TV's reality show "Over the Rainbow."

Jon Stewart is a good example of how the drive towards conversational English seems to be speeding us all up. Research shows that we used to speak on average 145 words per minute, but now, many of us are rattling off 160 to 180 words per minute. So how do our brains process fast speech? We'll talk to John Connolly, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience of Language at McMaster University. 

There's a general perception that parents these days are too lenient, and that includes the way they talk to their kids. We'll hear from a Halifax family that's trying to meet in the middle by using both styles: the imperative and the inclusive.

And finally, we'll head into the future to find out what's happening to close the gap between computers and humans. We're more alike than you might think! Gerald Penn from the University of Toronto will tell us just how far computer speak has come.

Feel free to comment on any of the material brought up in The Gap: Do you think politicians should sound more like us? Is it your feeling that people are speaking faster now than they used to? Should parents try to talk more like their kids to close the gap? What have your interactions with talking computers been like?