Lykespeak, a Guide for Faculty
Neusprach: Welcome back, Mortimer. Have you met your classes yet?
Altschuler: Yes . . . I think so. . . . They looked at me when I walked in. But (helplessly) they don't speak English anymore!
Neusprach: Did you speak to them?
Altschuler. I spoke to them. They seemed to understand what I was saying. But then they tried to speak.
Neusprach: What do you mean, 'tried'?
Altschuler: Well, I was speaking in grammatically complete English sentences. The way I'm speaking to you now. But they didn't do that.
Neusprach: What did they do?
Altschuler: God only knows. All I could get out of it was a word that sounded like 'like,' with a lot of interpolations of something that sounded like 'guise.'
Neusprach: (laughing) No. The word you were hearing was 'guys.' That's one of the two words they know. It's called Lykespeak.
Altschuler: (dismayed) But is there any way I can learn this Lykespeak? I'd really like to try to communicate. If they knew about it, some of them might be interested in learning about Pericles and Thermopylae and Sophocles and Plato and Alcibiades and Aristotle's theory of constitutional balance and . . . .
Neusprach: (chuckling) No, they don't want to know about those things. But if you're serious, there are some resources on YouTube that help you learn Lykespeak. Let me give you a transcript of the video my department uses to help senior faculty members understand the sounds the students are making.
Altschuler: A transcript?
Neusprach. Yes. Without a transcript, you'd be just as helpless as you were with those students in your class. Here's what will happen. In Section A, a college student will come on speaking fluent Lykespeak. In that section she mainly talks about "guys," with what will sound like a lot of inarticulate babble in between. The crucial point is that to college students, the sounds she's making have the same function that words and sentences do for speakers of English.
When Section A is done, move the timing button at the bottom of the screen to 2:57 and keep listening until the marker shows 3:19. What you'll hear is an almost pure sample of Lykespeak as spoken by today's college students. Read over the transcript and repeat this section a couple of times and you'll decipher some of the sounds between the "likes." That will help with your own students.
Altschuler: (having viewed video) That's very instructive. But you can't tell me that everyone admitted to college in the United States talks this way. There must be some survivors.
Neusprach: Well, you're technically right, Mortimer. A tiny number of students at a few schools do still sound like educated human beings. But they're outnumbered by the millions and millions who talk like the person in the video you just heard. Most young people simply don't know how to speak any other way.
Altschuler: Wouldn't the answer be to give them examples of people their own age who speak like educated adults? Just being exposed to one or two examples might be enough to make thousands of them let them hear what they themselves sound like.
Neusprach: Funny you should mention that. My department is experimenting with another "college advice" video showing a young person speaking like an educated grownup. We ask students to look at the first video, the one directly above. Then, as soon as they're done, we have them go straight to this other one. Would you like to take a look?
Altschuler: (having watched the video) Fascinating! Does having students compare the two videos let them hear how they sound?
Neusprach: Results are mixed. A few students, when they've seen the two videos back-to-back, stop saying "like" instantly. They tell us they'd do anything not to sound like the girl in that first video. But most simply don't know any other way to talk. They have tiny vocabularies, and they don't have anything to put in their sentences where the "likes" used to go. They get tongue-tied. It frustrates them terribly.
Altschuler: But if they gave up Facebook and Twitter and texting and video games and TV and starting reading constantly, wouldn't that problem solve itself?
Neusprach: That's our hope, Mortimer. That's precisely our hope.