Summer 2015

July 2012

Yes, lectures are a wonderful source of speech errors. With apologies to one of my very very favorite linguistics professors back in Carbondale, everything I don't know about Historical Linguistics is probably directly attributable to my then brand new fascination with speech error collection and to the wealth of speech errors she could produce in a fifty minute lecture. The fact that she made so many speech errors and was simultaneously a thoroughly interesting and articulate speaker is all the proof one needs that there is no correlation between education/intelligence/poise/grace/wisdom and the number of speech errors you can produce.

September, 2007

Yes, this native chinese speaker (who was teaching a Chinese class to Americans at the time) was about to say 'Chinese' and stopped herself. And, yes, people do make speech errors in languages they are learning. It's just extra fun that she made one while talking about mistakes.

If you have a friend who is learning English (or any other language you speak), listen for a while and you will hear both genuine slips of the tongue and errors that are the result of that person's incomplete knowledge of the language. We count only the first kind as genuine slips. After you know someone and listen to his or her speech patterns for a while, it's pretty easy to tell which is which. It's clear this speaker knows the word 'English' and the word 'Chinese'. She just got them backward. This is an ordinary semantically mediated lexical slip.

Jealous? Wish you knew as much Chinese as she knows English? Try for a large, if slightly overwhelming set of online audio visual resources or for a very nice set of CDs.

Want to read more about slips made by second language speakers? Try a book called Speech errors in first and second language production by Nanda Poulisse (John Benjamin's 1999)

For more about teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, see

August 2006

This is a semantically mediated lexical slip in Spanish. The speaker was relating what was happening on a movie screen while watching the old 'Cat in the Hat' cartoon.

Speech errors occur in all of the languages linguists have studied at roughly the same rate. We have no data to suggest that there are 'simple' languages where few slips occur or 'complicated' languages where people make a lot of slips.

Granted, we haven't done speech error collections in all of the world's 6,500 or so languages, but we do have, however, a fair selection including Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish.

To see a list of languages of the world, visit The Ethnologue.

What if we made a list of the ten most widely spoken languages of the world and compared it with the list of languages for which we have speech error data? Before you click on the following link, take a minute to see how many of the top ten languages (measured by numbers of native speakers) you can list yourself.

Top Ten Languages by Number of Native Speakers

Now, how about a list of the languages with the fewest speakers, a much more serious subject. Ethnologue's list of Nearly Extinct Languages

As of August, 2006, there were 516 languages on the list.

July 24 - July 31

If absolutley forced to choose, I'd say this lexical slip was semantically mediated. But, I wouldn't want to have to choose.

First of all, both 'counter' and 'kitchen' begin with the same sound and have the same stress pattern and number of syllables. So some phonological mediation is not out of the question. Second, I (yes, it was me again) was standing in the dill-scented kitchen beside the counter on which did, in fact, rest a nice sprig of freshly cut dill. So, environmental mediation also played its part.

It's good to remember that all the components of language work together, interacting with one another. Environmental influences on language are as omnipresent as, well, as the environment. And every time we speak, lexical and phonological influences are at work. This is a nice example of how using classical categories to sort data can obscure some potentially very interesting aspects of the data. If we just call this a semantically mediated lexical slip and leave it at that, we miss the fact that other influences are present. Not that categorizing data is a bad idea—you have to do *something* to organize a large corpus of data—but we should do it knowing that the method imposes limitations on the analysis.

Here is an online resource that discusses classical categories and human cognition:
Classical and Imaginative Reason by Dr. Jan Garrett.
or find and read "Metaphors We Live By" by Mark Johnson and George Lakoff.

Less academically, for more about dill, click here.
Or visit here to see why in the world I had dill on my counter in the first place.

July 17 - July 24

This week's slip was selected in honor of Rev W A Spooner's 162nd birthday which falls on July 22nd. Thanks to Jason W-J for both making and allowing us to use this one.

Here, the /k/ sound in 'school' and the /t/ sound in 'street' change places. Spoonerisms don't account for many of the speech errors we hear and make everyday, but this may partly be due to the fact that people often detect them and stop midway. So, you might get as far as saying 'Sesame Screet' and stop. The listener who was writing down speech errors would not hear the whole spoonerism and conclude it was a simple anticipation of the upcoming /k/ sound in 'school'.

Here's a very nice history of Spoonerisms from

And it wouldn't be right to honor Rev. spooner without giving a nod to Colonel Stoopnagle AKA F. Chase Taylor who gave us Prinderella and the Since.
here is the Colonel's homepage courtesy of Rick Squires
There is also a readily available book by Franscois Boutet Keen James called "Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted."

Just in case you wanted to know, there is a Sesame Street - Talking Alphabet School Bus out there, but no talking stool buses as far as I could find. One wonders what such a creation would look like and if it has anything to do with potty training...

July 10 - July 17

It's pretty clear that the error here involved the last vowel in 'Pooh' perseverating, or moving ahead, to replace the last vowel in 'dee-vee-dee'. But, I just can't help wondering if the new Pooh video is good or not: is it a D-V-do ... or a D-V-don't?
Thanks to crack speech error collector Courtney F for this one.

July 3-July 9

This came to me courtesy of one of my graduate students in english 615. Ah, if only I'd have been there for this one to hear the reaction the poor fellow got. This is a nice phrase blend. there are probably lots of unnoticed phrase blends in ordinary speech because, often, combining two ordinary phrases produces a third phrase which is unremarkable enough to pass beneath the error detection radar. I could, for example, want to say both
He is angry
he looks mad
and come up with the combination
He looks angry
and nobody but me would ever be the wiser. combining idioms, however, is pretty apparent.

For some reason, there are lots of collections of church-related blunders to be found on the internet. Most of these are things found in printed materials from churches. some are poorly chosen syntactic constructions, some typoes, and some have origins shrounded in the mists of uncertainty! Here ( are some of my favorites. I can't attest that all of these are genuine slips, but I can say that most of them are funny.

June 26 - July 2

This week, the error of the week is not an error. It's a marvelous self-defining restart. She started to say 'restart', stopped and then went on to talk about her hesitations. Thanks to Kimberly for uttering this gem as we were discussing her speech production. For what it's worth, she's right. She does make lots of restarts but has few hesitations in her speech.

June 19-26

Oh, what a lovely image! I wonder how exactly two escalators might...and where are their noses anyhow?

The categorization of this one is pretty straightforward. It's an incorrectly chosen word, so the level is lexical. Eskimos and escalators don't have anything semantically in common. but the two words sound a lot alike. This one, then, is a phonologically mediated lexical slip... and a nice one at that!

Thanks to Mary P for passing along, if not uttering' this week's slip.

And, you can't mention the word Eskimo in a linguistic context without addressing the question of...well you know the question I mean. Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen's guide

June 12-18 2006

UTTERANCE: Monkey pock-up theater!!!

TARGET: Monkey pop-up theater!!!

Explanation: This is a straightforward phonological perseveration. The /k/ sound from 'monkey' displaced the second /p/ in 'pop-up'

It's generally courteous to spare the feelings of the perpetrators of slips by not revealing their identity. This one, alas, was made on (and not edited out of) a popular PBS kids show, Between the Lions. We weren't able to retrieve the date the episode originally aired because, although you may find it hard to believe, people on this show are always shouting 'Monkey Pop Up Theater" at one another.

In case you find yourself wondering why anyone would say 'monkey pop-up theater', (not to mention why anyone would need three exclamation points when doing so), I refer you to Between the Lions on your public television station. Watch a while, and you, too, will be shouting 'monkey pop-up theater'! Maybe, it will become a linguistic epidemic!