Friday, November 21, 2014


Have you noticed the odd way that newscasters have of accenting varying words. One of the most common forms of poetic expression is iambic pentameter. Shakespeare employed it in his plays. Newspeak  was the language Orwell created for the repressive society he envisioned in l984. But it’s a good word to use to describe how television announcers communicate. It’s not iambic pentameter, but it has definite cadences that revolve around emphasizing certain words and whether you’re listening to CNN or NPR or CBS or even Al Jazeera, it has the tendency to make all the news, whether it concerns a lost pet or plane, sound remarkably the same. There’s an old neuroscience conjecture that if you put a monkey in front of a typewriter long enough he will write Hamlet. Can the same thing be said about newscasters? Sometimes the emphasis seems arbitrary. Every sentence seems to require a key word. For instance let’s say a CNN’s anchor like Carol Costello or Chris Cuomo wants to say “the cat is out of the bag.” They won’t just iterate the words like you or I. They will probably emphasize the last two words of the sentence, “the bag.”  Let’s take another sentence an anchor might say, like “Ray Rice punched his then fiancé.” “Then” would obviously be the nominee in that particular sentence. Or here’s another possible sentence a newscaster might read, “Sources at the Pentagon have indicated that the ‘no boots on the ground’ policy may soon be reversed.” You’d think the emphasis might fall on “sources” or “Pentagon,” but “indicated” is clearly the word that punctuates the mood that the sentence creates.  Newspeak is definitely a language that one has to learn like French or Spanish and like all language it contains its own river of meanings that lies under the superficial veneer that the words create once they are encoded into a particular syntax. For instance, French communicates a certain pertness (as opposed to the perkiness of Newspeak), verging on rudeness or abruptness; there ‘s a hyberbolic sardonicism to French. When a French man or woman can’t do something that you require, they say “Je suis desole,” which means they are not desole at all and you can go fuck yourself since you’re not getting squat. Newscasters are totally the opposite of the French. There hardly a negative personality amongst them and every word out of their mouths is an expression of interest and enthusiasm. When Carol or Chris speaks to one of their correspondents out in the field, she or he is incredibly interested in everything the correspondent has to say, no matter how insignificant it is. Neither Chris nor Carol would probably ever dream of uttering the English equivalent of “Je suis desole.” Berlitz is one of the places one goes to learn French, Spanish or Italian, but how does one learn Newspeak. It’s the old nature versus nurture question. Obviously there are some people who are born talking like newscasters. Others start to talk this way after watching too much news and other wannabees attend schools of broadcasting which supposedly will teach you how to be a radio or television announcer. But once you have learned to talk like an announcer, can you ever return to the monotone of normal human speech. Can a pickle be turned back into a cucumber once he or she returns home from announcing headline stories?

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