February 21, 2005

Prof. Dell Explains Slips of Tongue

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On Friday, Prof. Gary S. Dell, a specialist in the language of psychology at the University of Illinois, theorized on what happens when a person makes a slip of the tongue. His explanation had nothing to do with Freudian slips.

Freud proposed that when somebody misspeaks, it is an accidental expression of repressed thoughts or feelings. Dell believes Freudian slips do not exist but rather are related to the speech patterns of aphasic patients.

Aphasia is caused by brain damage and characterized by an inability to speak or comprehend, Dell explained. In other words when people with aphasia speak. they make many errors.

Dell sought out to defend Freud’s continuity thesis, which states that normal speech errors and aphasic speech errors are the same thing. By defending Freud’s thesis, Dell believes he can explain both normal and aphasic speech errors. To test this theory, he created a computer simulation.

“[The simulation] tries to produce words and it occasionally slips,” Dell said. According to Dell, it behaves like normal people In this way. Dell then damaged the simulation, hoping it will behave the same way aphasics do.

During Friday’s colloquium, organized by the department of psychology, Dell showed that when his simulation was damaged, it mimicked the behavior of aphasic patients. The simulation’s success supports Freud’s continuity thesis.

At the colloquium, which is held every Friday in Uris Hall, Dell told an eager crowd of about 30 students, faculty and staff that people make three main types of errors in speech — semantic, formal and mixed. Dell said that a semantic error would be like saying “dog” instead of “cat.” While making a formal error, one confuses similar sounds and says “mat” instead of “cat.” In a mixed error, one confuses meaning and sound and says “rat” instead of “cat.”

Dell said that “a great deal of President Bush’s errors come from the [formal] category.” Dell then began to explain the process he went through to imitate normal and aphasic slips of the tongue by way of his computer simulation.

Dell ended his lecture with a quote from Bush, “I am a person who recognizes the fallacy [fallibility] of humans.”

Prof. Morten Christiansen, psychology, who organized the colloquium and teaches a class called the Psychology of Language, said he “personally considers [Dell] to be one of the most outstanding psychologists in his particular area.”

Christiansen solicited suggestions from the psychology department and his colleagues on speakers whom they would like to have present in the colloquium.

“Dell is certainly well respected and gets many invitations and we are certainly happy to have him come here,” Christiansen said.

Archived article by Ikea Hamilton
Sun Staff Writer