Fun_People Archive
31 Jan
About SF Fans and Body Language

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 100 18:17:13 -0800
To: Fun_People
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Subject: About SF Fans and Body Language

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649  -=[ Fun_People ]=-
Forwarded-by: "Andrew C . Bul+hac?k" <>
This was sent to a mailing list I'm on.  I thought it was fascinating.
Whilst many of the observations made are about scifi fans, I suspect
that much the same would apply to many other groups who communicate
primarily in textual modes.  In fact, this could be a fundamental
aspect of the "geek" archetype throughout history.
 -- acb

Forwarded-by: Karl Musser <>
I got this from another mailing list, thought you might find it interesting.

> There is a large news thread on the subject in
> rec.arts.sf.fandom as well.
> Cally Soukup <> wrote in message
> news:<7f5o9g$ft2$1@wheel.two14.lan>...
> >
> > This is my best effort at a summary of Karyn Ashburn's talk.  I
> > promised to show it to her before I posted so she could make
> > corrections or additions.  Since I emailed it to her sister Elise 10
> > days ago, I believe I've fulfilled that promise.  I haven't heard
> > back from her yet, but should she reply, I'll be sure to post
> > whatever she has to say.
> >
> > Minicon Panel Report (VERY long)
> >
> > The best piece of programming I attended at Minicon was a panel, or
> > rather a lecture, by Karyn Ashburn, Elise Mattheson's sister.  She is
> > a speech therapist, with lots of initials after her name, who works
> > with adult populations, many of whom are nonverbal or barely verbal,
> > and she isn't a member of fandom.  As the sister of a member of
> > fandom, however, she's had an opportunity to observe us in one of our
> > native habitats when meeting Elise at conventions.  And as a non-fan
> > and a person passionately interested in speech production, she's
> > noticed some common features in the way fans verbally communicate.
> >
> > We were lucky in that she hadn't shown up for her panel at 5:00 on
> > Saturday, which would have been in a smallish function room and
> > restricted to only an hour.  Instead she was rescheduled for after
> > closing ceremonies in the ballroom, so a large fraction of the
> > convention members had a chance to hear her.  Because we wouldn't let
> > her leave, her talk ended up being about 2 1/2 hours long, but she
> > still left us with a lot of questions.  I recommend her as a speaker
> > to any convention.  The bare gist of what she said follows.
> >
> > On those occasions when she showed up at a con to meet Elise, she saw
> > lots of fans in groups talking.  To her they seemed angry and rude.
> > To Elise they seemed nothing of the sort.  Observing them more
> > closely, she realized that they were using different social cues,
> > different body language, different eye contact, and even different
> > ways of forming vowels than what she jokingly called "my people", or
> > what for convenience sake I'll call mundanes.  She hastened to say
> > she doesn't have a theory, or even yet much of a hypothesis for why
> > this may be (or a large enough sample size across populations to
> > prove that this is so), but she does have a lot of questions.
> >
> > She also seemed quite concerned that we would feel offended by what
> > she had to say, but what she told us was so interesting, and often so
> > recognizably true, that I don't think anyone was.  Of course
> > everything that I'm about to say is an overgeneralization; different
> > fans possess these traits to greater or lesser degrees.
> >
> > First, the mechanics of actual vocal production, especially vowels.
> > The phonemes in the words "him" and "meet" are produced with the
> > tounge in various positions, and the lips stretched back.  The
> > phonemes "uh" and "oh" are produced with rounded lips.  This, at any
> > rate, is the case in mundania.  Fans, she has noticed, push the
> > vowels forward; rounding the lips somewhat even for "ee" and "ih".
> > We use our lips a lot, but at the same time, we use our cheeks and
> > our chins not as often as would be expected.  We stabilize the cheeks
> > and the chin, and we "prolabialize". (When, while sitting at a table,
> > I leaned my chin on my hands while talking to her, she became
> > uncomfortable.  She can't do that easily; her chin moves more when
> > she speaks.)
> >
> > Second, fans articulate more than mundanes.  She had various of us
> > stand up and say things, and then repeated them in "mundane".  When I
> > said the phrase "talk to", she pointed out that I had pronounced the
> > "k" on the end of "talk".  Mundanes, she said, wouldn't.  We
> > pronounce more of the terminal consonents in a phrase than a typical
> > mundane does.  We are more likely than mundanes to pronounce the "h"
> > in "where", and the "l" in "folk".  (She seemed to think it was
> > rather charming; that we were preserving old pronounciations, or
> > reinventing them from the way words are spelled.)
> >
> > We also speak in larger word groupings between breaths.  This does
> > not necessarily mean that we speak faster; we just pause for a
> > shorter time between words -- except where there is punctuation.  She
> > pointed out that when Teresa Nielsen Hayden said she came from Mesa,
> > Arizona, Teresa actually pronounced the comma by putting a slightly
> > longer pause there, while most mundanes would simply run the words
> > together.  Mundanes slur a lot of consonents that we pronounce
> > individually.  We use punctuation in our spoken utterances.
> > Sometimes we even footnote.
> >
> > What we say in those large word groupings is also different.  We tend
> > to use complete sentences, and complex sentence structure.  When we
> > pause, or say "uh", it tends to be towards the beginning of a
> > statement, as we formulate the complete thought.  The "idea" or
> > "information" portion of a statement is paramount; emotional
> > reassurance, the little social noises (mm-hmm) are reduced or
> > omitted.  We get to the heart of what we want to say -- if someone
> > asks us how to do something we tell them, not leading up to it gently
> > with "have you tried doing it this way?"
> >
> > This leads us to body language.  Our body language is also different
> > from mundanes.  We tend to not use eye contact nearly as often; when
> > we do, it often signifies that it's the other person's turn to speak
> > now.  This is opposite of everyone else.  In mundania, it's
> > *breaking* eye contact that signals turn-taking, not *making* eye
> > contact.  She demonstrated this on DDB; breaking eye contact and
> > turning slightly away, and he felt insulted.  On the other hand, his
> > sudden staring at her eyes made her feel like a professor had just
> > said "justify yourself NOW".  Mutual "rudeness"; mixed signals.
> >
> > We use our hands when we talk, but don't seem to know what to do with
> > our arms.  When thinking how to put something we close our eyes or
> > look to the side and up, while making little "hang on just a second"
> > gestures to show that we're not finished talking.  We interrupt each
> > other to finish sentences, and if the interrupter got it right, we
> > know we've communicated and let them speak; if they get it wrong we
> > talk right over them.  This is not perceived as rude, or not very
> > rude.
> >
> > We accept corrections on matters of fact and of pronunciation; when I
> > asked her about whether fanspeak might be related to Asperger's
> > Syndrome, and mispronounced "Asperger's", I was corrected in
> > mid-sentence by the man sitting next to me, corrected myself, thanked
> > him, and finished the sentence.  One Doesn't Do That in Mundania.
> > Fans understand that mispronouncing words one has only read is very
> > common in fandom, and not mortally embarrassing.
> >
> > When we make a joke, we don't do a little laugh in the middle of a
> > word to signal that it's funny; we inhale and exhale a very fast,
> > short breath at the end of the sentence, rather like a suppressed
> > beginning of a laugh, or a kind of a gasp.
> >
> > She didn't get much into why this is all the case (I think she was
> > surprised at the laughter when she suggested diffidently that we
> > might be a bit under socialized.  No, really?? <grin>), and turned
> > away questions about possible pathology.  While more comfortable with
> > us now, I suspect she was probably still worried about offending us.
> > She did suggest that many of the common features of fanspeak seem to
> > be related to thinking in "written English".
> >
> > The day before, while waiting for her sister to show up, Elise had
> > suggested that perhaps the overuse of the lips and underuse of cheeks
> > and chin had come from very small children wanting to communicate
> > complex ideas to grownups; the facial muscles still being
> > underdeveloped, the easiest way to articulate would be to concentrate
> > on the lips, holding the cheeks and chin still as a way to reduce the
> > complexity of word formation.
> >
> > I hope others who were at the panel can expand upon what I've
> > reported, especially the parts I may have ommited.  It truly was the
> > most interesting lecture or panel I've ever attended, and I can't
> > recommend her too highly if you can convince her to speak at a
> > convention you're involved with.  It would both give her more test
> > subjects and us more cool information <grin>.

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