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December 23, 2011  |  "Lazy" speech  |  12025 hit(s)

Once again I have heard someone refer to a speech pattern as "lazy." Of all the complaints about the way other people speak (and by golly, there are plenty), the one that makes the least sense to me is that people's speech is lazy. And yet:
... my pet peeves. They’re about pronunciation, rather than grammar and news people on television are doing this more every day:

1. Fill, instead of feel.
2. Pill, instead of peel.

To me, this “sims” just lazy. [source]
Plural forms are always going to be determined by what the majority is used to or comfortable with, with a tendency towards laziness. Very few people are going to bother with Priora when Priuses is perfectly functional. However, that doesn't mean that words adopted into English should use regular plural forms; it simply means that they are likely to. [source]
If I'm talking with friends or sending a text, I don't use "proper" English grammar, but I do recognize that my grammar is incorrect. I just don't care, and I know that my listener will understand me even if I'm lazy. [source]
A split infinitive can be a lazy way not to write a better sentence. [source]
When a speaker or writer uses incorrect subject/verb agreement, it tells the audience that he is either lazy or does not care. [source]
Using the singular 'they' means you're not trying, you don't know grammar rules, or you're lazy. [source]
There's also a Facebook page titled Poor Grammar is the sign of a lazy mind.

What doesn't make sense to me is that lazy means unwilling to put forth some sort of effort. But for a native speaker, emitting correct sentences is literally effortless. People don't say aks instead of ask or I could care less instead of the nominally correct version because they've expended all the effort they're going to put forth and simply refuse to go that extra mile (or syllable, or consonant cluster). People don't say readin' and writin' because using a velar -n (-ng) is harder to use than a dental one. People don't say Priuses because it's so hard to emit some made-up plural like Priora.

Try this. If people were truly being lazy in their speech, what you'd expect is that they'd just use less speech — shorter words and shorter sentences. Or maybe they'd just stop talking.

Or try this. Compare a "lazy" speaker with someone who actually is having difficulty speaking: someone who's drunk. You can easily tell the difference, and even the "laziest" speaker sounds different when inebriated.

Or try this. Listen to other people who speak the same dialect. They all sound the same, right? So are they all lazy? That would seem to go against the observation that laziness, like ambition, smarts, and good looks, is spread around about the same everywhere.

There are of course alternative readings for "lazy." Perhaps someone is trying to say that a speaker is "too lazy" to learn the correct forms of words. I think you can parse this as "This speaker has a different dialect, but should also acquire a standard dialect." That's an interesting sociological discussion about the place of non-standard dialects in a given culture.

It also raises the question of whether the accusers feel that they themselves have made extra effort to acquire the speech patterns that are used by the non-lazy. Did they, for example, rise at dawn to practice their pronunciation drills and stay after school to master tricky verbal forms like ask? Or did they in fact acquire their dialect the way everyone else does, with the difference that theirs happens to conform more closely to standard written English?

"Lazy" is basically a moral judgment. But there is no moral calculus for dialects. Sure, there are social consequences to how you speak, just like there for how you dress. Is someone who shows up at a wedding in jeans "too lazy" to dress properly? Or are they maybe just clueless, or tactless, or "born in a barn," or even rebellious?

Probably what an accusation of "lazy" speech really means is that those "lazy" speakers should speak like me, because I speak correctly. That, of course, is a common human sentiment. But let's not confuse our conviction about the correctness of our speech with laziness on the part of those who don't share that conviction.

Karla   23 Dec 11 - 10:35 AM

When I lived in NH, we were teasing a friend from Kentucky about how he spoke. He said, "Aw, ee-it's jus' lazy tawk." He knew how to speak "correctly" but it took effort to speak the way we thought he should. Just the other day I said to my son, "It musta fell into the basket." I KNOW I should have said, "It must have fallen into the basket," but that's not what came out of my mouth. I was being lazy.

I grew up in Iowa, lived in NH and then California, and I've lived in Texas for the past 20 years, so I've heard a variety of accents and regionalisms. So, in my opinion, "lazy talk" is just when you fall back to the way you spoke growing up, complete with the various bad grammars, idioms, phrases you learned from your family, and accents from your region.

Jonathon   23 Dec 11 - 10:59 AM

I find it fascinating that social judgements are so often expressed as moral judgements. It seems like we have some sort of fundamental need to believe that those that are different from us are inferior in some way.

mike   23 Dec 11 - 11:31 AM

Hi, Karla. Thanks for commenting! I would say two things about your observation. Thing 1: In your illustration between KY (or other) dialects and standard English, my interpretation is that you might think (?) that the latter is the better or "more correct" one. That puts a value judgment on a dialect, something that I (and I imagine most actual dialectologists) would disagree with. Which is to say, neither dialect is more grammatically correct, it's just that one dialect is considered the standard, whereas the other is socially incorrect.

Thing 2 is that the latter statement ("socially incorrect") depends on context. It might be socially incorrect to emit something like musta fell in polite company or in a term paper, but it's just fine among other people who say the same. (I presume that your son belongs to one or more speech communities where this is the norm.) If your Kentucky friend is home in Kentucky, it's not lazy for him to speak his native dialect. In fact, refusing to do so is something of a faux pas. Why change the way you speak if you're in an environment where it doesn't matter? That'd be like wearing a tux around the house. :-) By extension, using your native dialect among speakers of a different dialect is, if anything, a social failing, like using the wrong fork or something.

But again, I wouldn't call it "lazy." Just, you know, socially inept.

Karla   23 Dec 11 - 11:31 AM

What are social judgments if not moral judgments? Thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against thy neighbor, covet thy neighbour's house, treat others the way you want to be treated; gluttony, greed, pride, lust, envy, wrath, sloth...

Karla   23 Dec 11 - 11:35 AM

@Mike: true dat. ;-)

mike   23 Dec 11 - 11:45 AM

>"What are social judgments if not moral judgments?"

Haha. Well, I suppose social errors lead to lonely Saturday nights, whereas moral errors land you in burning pits of fire. Altho granted, many people probably are happy to consign utterers of non-standard speech to the latter. :-) Just don't get me started on people who tailgate, grrrr ...

Brian   23 Dec 11 - 11:52 AM

Nice metaphor, wearing a tux around the house. Except that it brought to mind a time when I did just that with my language. Growing up, I had a Philadelphian accent -- which is not the same as a New York accent, despite many TV shows that think it is (it's not as nasal). The Philadelphian accent is marked by slurring and dropping syllables, however, which was the problem. In college, I was not only away from my home region, but I was also a writing tutor, meaning I worked with ESL students regularly, who needed me to speak clearly so they could understand. I also mentored another tutor who was hard of hearing, and she needed me to look her in the eye and enunciate. That confluence of circumstances led me to actively work at eliminating my accent -- wearing a tux around the house -- until I reached the point that I could speak "properly" without having to think about it.

That's only one data point, but in that context, "lazy" speech translates to me as "how you speak when you don't think about it." Which might be socially acceptable or not, depending on how the rest of society views your default speech mode.

Evans   03 Mar 19 - 5:39 AM

I think speech can qualify as lazy without placing the onus entirely upon the speaker. People do recognise the significance of culture.

mike   03 Mar 19 - 8:50 AM

Evans, can you expand on that? I'm not understanding what you mean by how speech can be culturally lazy (?)