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On the Chittering of Meerkats
– September 22, 2012

So I’m sitting in Starbuck’s getting my head out of a bad morning (unfortunately it’s not the greatest Starbucks as far as relaxing hangouts go – very poor floor design), and as I am wont to do I eavesdrop on the conversations around me. And it never ceases to amaze me how utterly banal and trivial most conversation is (that is, non-purposed language, though even that, greatly). Jakobson broke language down into six functions: referential, emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual, and poetic. Never mind the other five, because I am greatly convinced that with most speech acts, with the exceeding majority of conversations, the primary function, if not the defining function, is the phatic: the basic aspect of connection, the continual reaffirming of the fundamental exchange: “Are you talking to me?” “Yes. Are you talking to me?” “Yes. Are you taking to me?”

To state it another way, it is the constant assurance of “I am talking to you; you are talking to me; we are talking together; we are us.”

To state it one more way: “We are herd. We are safe. You are part of the herd. We are herd. We are safe. I am part of the herd. We are herd. We are safe.”

But then, in the end, that should not be that surprising. The nomos must be continually reaffirmed; and central to the continuation of the nomos is reaffirming the identity of ‘group as one.’



Something I would almost always bring up in my classes, this suggestion toward the observation of language: next time in a bar, listen to people talking. Especially when a person arrives an joins a group. Listen to how repetitive the language is: everyone is carrying on the same conversation, with very little purpose outside of the phatic. More often than not I would have students coming back with tales of "You were right!"