Lykespeak, a Guide for Faculty


 Articulacy is not merely evidence of intelligence but intelligence itself.

Inarticulacy implies a shortcoming of thought.

-- Tony Judt


Note: the exchange below, overheard on a spring day in the Old Quad, took place between two faculty members, Jay Neusprach, an associate professor in the Department of Sociolinguistics, and Mortimer Altschuler, a senior professor of History who had recently returned to Rutgers from a five-year research leave at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University.


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.

Section A

hi guys so I 'm back with another video in my college advice series and this one has been the most requested yet so I guess the video is about college partying what to expect how to safe party all that kinda stuff I do just want to add a little disclaimer here I'm not advocating one way or the other it's just that don't think that I am judging or anything this is just my experiences with it and this is just kinda like an informational video because the video was so so requested all of you guys' comments requests I was kind of like you guys coming to me like I'm a big sister and I get to sit down with you guys and tell you guys my experiences and I don't know give you guys some advice I went into this completely blindsided and I wish I had someone to talk to that had been through this and I don't know I was just really really confused so I hope this helps you guys out and let's just get into it. [video begins]

Section B (2:57 - 3:19)

So yeah we get ready and we're like oh go like a sleep over and then we go over to the girl on our floor because we're all going to the same place and she calls us up and she's like hey come over and we can compare outfits and so I was like ‘perfect!' so we walked right over and I was like ‘oh no' oh no no one was wearing sandals or jeans they were all wearing skirts or dresses and wedges and I was like ‘oh drat' [?] . . . 

Faculty Guide to Lykespeak: the Video

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?


Sounding Like an Educated Adult, Even if You're Only 17


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.

Altschuler: One final question. Isn't there a danger that younger faculty members, not knowing any better, will begin to deliver their classroom lectures and run discussion sections in their own version of Lykespeak? If they do that, where are students going to learn to speak English?

Neusprach: Well, I have to admit we've run across evidence that Lykespeak has begun to invade classroom teaching. We just received a video of a recent college lecture, for instance.

Altschuler: do you have that video?

Neusprach: We do. We can give you a link, but as with Section B above, it might be best if we gave you a transcript of a short sections. It begins at 6:19 and continues to 7:13. Let us highlight the parts you might have trouble understanding:

Section C (6:18 - 7:33)

Cambridge has a whole series of books called "The Cambridge Companion to . . ." so like he where he and he told me like they've historicized everybody they can historicize, and what they need to do now is explain why they're historicizing Jane Austen or, you know, Frederick Douglass or Emily Dickenson like what is it, why not historicize somebody else there was sorta like a question that was left implicit and unanswered in all these texts, which were trying to be like fully critical and aware and things like that which was okay yeah you've helped me understand the history of Pride and Prejudice why should I read it so they've opened up this new series and there's already a couple of books out in it, so the book I'm going to be reading from is coming out next year and what he invited me to do he said I wanna have like, um, I wanna bring a strong voice of evaluative criticism back to the field of, like, literary studies and so he said, like, write it how you want to write it, like you know try to invent a, come up with a sorta like voice for literary criticism.

Lykespeak at the Lectern