Why do we speak formally in normal social situations?

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StarTrekker
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04 Nov 2014, 12:08 am

I tend to be rather formal when speaking; I've been told I've "swallowed a dictionary" or am annoying and condescending, even when it's not my intention to come across that way. I'm extremely formal with regard to the way I write: a very strong vocabulary coupled with years of writing academic essays has hardwired me to instinctively use complex words and phrases when I write, even in casual emails to friends. Apart from "Lol" I never use text abbreviations in emails or texts; they drive me crazy. I always try to use proper punctuation and grammar as well, because improperly punctuated sentences can be misunderstood, and poor grammar grates on my ears (or mind, I suppose, if I'm reading it).

All that said, I watched a lot of Peanuts cartoons growing up (major special interest) and so picked up a lot of their speech patterns. When I do use slang, it's very archaic; expressions like, "Gee,", "shucks", "nuts", "rats", etc. I virtually never swear in front of other people, only very rarely to my sister, and that's a habit that stems simply of being around her; at 17, she swears frequently (just not in front of our parents). I do however, swear when talking to myself quite frequently. It's not something I do consciously, it's as if it automatically switches on and off depending on who I'm with.


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Transyl
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04 Nov 2014, 2:50 pm

I wrote a letter to my grandparents once that they replied was pretentious. That I was using irregular vocabulary and people didn't like that. Honestly, I don't remember using any unusual words. Maybe it was more my tone... I was trying to give them a better idea of me. Because in real life I practically don't speak. Yet something I said or the way I said it bugged them. Maybe they're just not used to me.

I use slang sometimes but other times I avoid it. There are also words that I do not like. For instance, describing someone as "hot" always seemed weird and perhaps rude. I've done it on occasion depending on context but no matter what I can't get past how weird it is. There are other ways that people talk that I find odd or in someway unappealing. I find it difficult to be like them although I feel if I did they would more readily accept me. In fact, I often get the feeling that my natural way of talking puts people off. Making them less prone to liking me or to respond to me.



voleregard
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04 Nov 2014, 4:38 pm

Even when I'm thoroughly engaged in a slang-based conversation, I'll be forming a thought and the obscure and multi-syllabic words will jump around in my brain, wanting to come out and play. I will tell them no. And they'll say, oh, but why not? And some of them continue to seduce me and eventually win me over, in spite of my knowing the likely consequences.

I'm with Callista on this. I went through tortuous years of advanced-placement English which taught me gobs of vocabulary that 95% of the population doesn't use. However, there is precision available through use of these words, and my brain seems to have become hardwired to prefer to find exactly the right description, so they're often the first things that flash into my head to say.

And like cozysweater mentioned, there's a certain beauty to a word that is perfectly suited for describing something, even if it isn't common. And there's a flow and aura to some words which allows for more nuance than a word which may be more accessible to most people. People often perceive my word choices as having some kind of status-seeking or arrogance behind them. So now, in addition to taking forever to form thoughts, I often can't use the first words that come to mind, because I have to translate them into slang so that people can understand me.

I also don't like using nick-names. Even shortened versions of peoples names. I was amazed to find out that Sunny was a nick-name for Sonia. Why would you not use Sonia? It's not any shorter, so you're not saving time, or wear on your vocal cords. Sunny sounds friendly, but to me Sonia is a beautiful image. I know, I answered my question, but it still doesn't make sense.

"And why do you insist that things must make sense?" asked the Cheshire cat.
"I don't quite know." said Alice.



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04 Nov 2014, 5:14 pm

I also went through advanced reading and English classes, such as they were. I developed a big vocabulary, could read and comprehend well above grade level, and was often one of the last standing in spelling bees, unusual at the time for a boy.

Not sure if this was reflective of a special interest, or if it was a gift that happened to be noticed and encouraged by my grade school teachers, but by high school, a good vocabulary, formal syntax and high reading comprehension didn't mean Jack if you struggled to write clearly and speak well in front of a class full of students.



olympiadis
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04 Nov 2014, 11:34 pm

- because our communications are almost always misunderstood in one or multiple ways.
We are conditioned to construct our communications in more and more precise terms.


OddFiction wrote:
... I now know that people have seen my attempts as
1> trying to appear smarter than they are
... also
2> pretending to know everything about everything
3> pretending to be able to solve everything
4> pretending to have experienced everything
5> trying to hijack (dominate) the conversation


^This is called projection.
When people operate completely within hierarchies, then that's how they filter everything around them.



voleregard
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05 Nov 2014, 11:18 am

olympiadis wrote:
When people operate completely within hierarchies, then that's how they filter everything around them.


I'm going to continue with this, even though I'm taking a bit of a tangent to OP's question, and giving more an answer to "why do others think we speak formally in social situations" because I think their perception is the real issue...

It took me a long time to understand this, but without a lot of detailed information, people cannot truly assess the motives others have for their actions. So in the absence of any investigation, they will attribute your motivations for doing something to the reasons they would have for doing something in the same situation.

In other words, they're not really assessing your reasons for your actions. They're interpreting your motives based on what their own motivations would be. So if they would only use what they deridingly refer to as "sophisticated, flowery" words to try to impress others in their hierarchy, then they'll conclude that is the reason you are. And accuse you of speaking "formally." Even though you may have no interest in their social-climbing game.

What they call "formal" to me is very casual. It's just a words to describe something accurately.

OddFiction wrote:
... I now know that people have seen my attempts as ...
4> pretending to have experienced everything
5> trying to hijack (dominate) the conversation


These accusations would likely come from other qualities of your presentation in addition to the formality. I've seen friends do this. They'll think they're contributing and sharing something helpful or valuable.

Because I could step away and not get emotionally wrapped up in my response, I could see that they just don't realize the way their attempts to contribute are pushing aside and alienating the people they're talking to. Validating what other people contribute (even if I think they're wrong) before sharing myself I've found goes a long way toward avoiding this problem. This may not be the case for you, I have no way of knowing, just sharing from my experience.



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05 Nov 2014, 12:55 pm

voleregard wrote:

It took me a long time to understand this, but without a lot of detailed information, people cannot truly assess the motives others have for their actions. So in the absence of any investigation, they will attribute your motivations for doing something to the reasons they would have for doing something in the same situation.

In other words, they're not really assessing your reasons for your actions. They're interpreting your motives based on what their own motivations would be. So if they would only use what they deridingly refer to as "sophisticated, flowery" words to try to impress others in their hierarchy, then they'll conclude that is the reason you are. And accuse you of speaking "formally." Even though you may have no interest in their social-climbing game.



That is a very important point to take from this discussion, thanks, it is not an unnecessary tangent.

If it wasn't for that reaction to one's formal and precise speech patterns, we wouldn't be wondering why we speak that way. We could simply speak freely. People could react to what we are saying rather than how we say it.



voleregard
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05 Nov 2014, 1:48 pm

grbiker wrote:
That is a very important point to take from this discussion, thanks, it is not an unnecessary tangent.


Thanks! Glad to hear I'm making sense.

grbiker wrote:
If it wasn't for that reaction to one's formal and precise speech patterns, we wouldn't be wondering why we speak that way. We could simply speak freely. People could react to what we are saying rather than how we say it.


Exactly. I've never been accused of speaking "formally" or been derided for word choice by others who possessed interlocutory resources similar to my own. They are able to, as you say, react to what we say rather than how we say it. Having the "extra tools" in the toolbox isn't an impediment to exploring ideas in conversation, and they don't criticize you for being obscure. It's nice when it happens.



voleregard
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05 Nov 2014, 1:52 pm

Just for fun!

http://etymonline.com/index.php?allowed ... hmode=none

I love looking up words there. No end to the surprising origins.



olympiadis
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05 Nov 2014, 7:32 pm

voleregard wrote:
In other words, they're not really assessing your reasons for your actions. They're interpreting your motives based on what their own motivations would be. So if they would only use what they deridingly refer to as "sophisticated, flowery" words to try to impress others in their hierarchy, then they'll conclude that is the reason you are. And accuse you of speaking "formally." Even though you may have no interest in their social-climbing game.


I've called this filtering reality (everything) through identity.
When you're not connected to a shared unconscious, then this creates a large barrier to understanding.



linatet
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08 Nov 2014, 6:46 pm

Yes, pretty common. I've heard: "why can't you speak like a normal teenager?" and "pedantic" and what's worse, when I am formal and polite many times people think I am mocking them! And they get mad and rude and that makes me feel bad.
Anyway, in my interpretation these may be factors: 1- slower absorption of context and social clues that gets in the way of learning "appropriate" slangs and so on; 2- being formal is neutral, because we may not be so good with context; 3- because we (many of us at least) spend more time reading "academic" stuff than socializing, so we are more "fluent" in formal language than everyday dinamic language and it comes more natural, we are used to it



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08 Nov 2014, 7:36 pm

What is expected: We encounter a social situation/person and instantly evaluate many unspoken conditions so that we can quickly formulate the best way to engage them verbally. Our engagement should be crafted in order to correctly match what the person is expecting from us, or at least set up an environment where they can then make it clear what is expected.
This process is deceptive and manipulative, - fake.

What we do: We engage as our plain old self, trying to be as neutral as possible so as to communicate information without offending, or generating some expectation of emotional response.

How they receive: Why have you crafted yourself to engage me in such a way? You must think XYZ about me and XYZ about yourself. You are clearly trying to manipulate me in some way that I cannot quite figure out. You are looking down on me. You are trying to establish your dominance or superior intelligence. You are ignoring my emotional needs. You are treating me as a robot. You are failing to recognize how I feel. There must be something wrong with you.



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11 Nov 2014, 5:10 am

I think that people with classic forms of ASD speak too formal because of the deficits in theory of mind and pragmatic issues. They may not know that other language is expected in normal conversation and use "encyclopedic" one in casual situations because they may not know that other people think in different way.

My speech was bizarrily "formal" in childhood. I do not think that it was due to more serious deficits in theory of mind. I strangely disliked colloquial language in some period of my life. Some normal, non-colloquial words sound "ugly" to me and I did not speak them. I tend to not use pseudonyms of my classmates in elementary school. I heard once that it is "annoying". I "limited" use of names and surnames. I do not speak vulgarisms usually and think that they should not be used.

I had even strange "shame" about saying someone's personal data. I did not speak the name or surname of one of the person from my secondary school when she pleased me to say it. It was weird. Maybe there was some sort of the "trauma" from elementary school where saying someone not by pseudonyms was once "annoying" to one of boys? What is the medical name of such "inadequate" shame?



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11 Nov 2014, 5:33 am

olympiadis wrote:
What is expected: We encounter a social situation/person and instantly evaluate many unspoken conditions so that we can quickly formulate the best way to engage them verbally. Our engagement should be crafted in order to correctly match what the person is expecting from us, or at least set up an environment where they can then make it clear what is expected.
This process is deceptive and manipulative, - fake.

What we do: We engage as our plain old self, trying to be as neutral as possible so as to communicate information without offending, or generating some expectation of emotional response.

How they receive: Why have you crafted yourself to engage me in such a way? You must think XYZ about me and XYZ about yourself. You are clearly trying to manipulate me in some way that I cannot quite figure out. You are looking down on me. You are trying to establish your dominance or superior intelligence. You are ignoring my emotional needs. You are treating me as a robot. You are failing to recognize how I feel. There must be something wrong with you.


I agree with this.
A lot of times i try to be neutral since is not always clear what is the expectation that the other person is is having about me.
I also speak formally because that's what i learned to be the right way to speak. There's not too much mistery behind it for me.
I started to study and i started to learn how to speak/write so from that point i understood that i should speak as clearly as i could to make my ideas be interpreted by who is listening to me.