[[This message has been approved by the family matriarch: ἀγαπῶ σε]]
My wife loves storytelling. For those of you who know her, you know that she has a flair for the dramatic. Hyperbole, she knows well. Brevity, she does not.
As we settled into a comfortable evening at her parents’ house, I found myself listening to a story she told me that afternoon. I could have listened again, like a dutiful husband, but my mind drifted.
You see, earlier that day I read Analyzing Discourse by Dooley and Levinsohn. [[This is about the moment I know you have either stopped reading, or are seriously considering it. I don’t blame you. I will keep up the narrative, but it will be peppered with linguistic talk and what not]]. In one of the chapters they wrote about a concept called chunking. The human brain, in order to create an accurate mental representation of a communicative event (translation = in order to properly understand what is being said), chunks information into smaller manageable pieces. In books, we accomplish this task by delineating parts, chapters, and paragraphs. In speech, other devices are used.
And so, instead of listening to Mary Beth’s story a second time, I decided to observe how she segmented, or chucked, the narrative. Lucky for me, lack of brevity is a major plus when conducting this experiment.
I was astounded. Dooley and Levinsohn claimed that some of the most common features used in oral chunking are the following: “and so,” “so,” and the use of intonation. At almost every strategic junction where a unit concluded and a new unit began, Mary Beth employed these devices.
At the conclusion of a unit, her intonation faded. At the beginning of a new unit, intonation raised. New units began with “and so” or “so.” I further observed that she introduced direct discourse pertaining to her speech, the equivalent of quotation marks, by saying “and I was like.” This device was also used to introduce a [[meta comment]] about the narrative. [[If you aren’t sure about what constitutes a meta comment, see all instances in this post that have been set off with [[ . . . ]] ]].
At the end of her story, she noticed that I was off in my own little world. She suggested that it was getting late, and we should go home. This was code for, “I know I’m boring you. Time to go.” I was far from bored. I was fascinated. Had I been in different company and shared my thought processes, I would have received blank stares. Instead, we all got a good laugh out of it. And despite my wandering mind and my detached demeanor, I found myself paying attention to and engaging with my wife’s narrative in an entirely new way.