Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/123

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119
THE LAPSES OF SPEECH
THE LAPSES OF SPEECH[1]

By Professor JOSEPH JASTROW

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

A SPECIAL interest attaches to the psychological relations of speech—an interest shared by the philologist, by reason of his recognition that the mode of use and growth of language, in spite of its arbitrary accretions, reflects the native traits of the impulses that gave it being; by the psychiatrist, for whom the observable disturbances of speech offer the most delicate and distinctive criteria of the nature and extent of inner defect; and by the psychologist, for its unique status as the embodiment and recapitulation, racial and individual, the record as well as the means of advance of the psychic endowment in efficiency, in scope and, above all, in analytic insight. Indeed there is hardly an aspect of the psychologist's pursuit that does not find pointed illustration among the extensively variable phenomena of language. I propose to indicate such of the habits, and particularly of the lapses of speech, as reflect the subconscious processes that participate in its normal functioning.

Psychologically, speech is but one of several modes of indicating that we appreciate the situations that confront us, that we judge and assimilate and combine these in rational fashion, and that we shape our conduct accordingly. A chess-player exhibits all this as distinctively as a debater; and the moves of the one, though quite remote from any verbal expression, are closely parallel to the arguments of the other. The analogies of speech with other forms of intelligent expression favor the expectation that the lapses of the two will exhibit a considerable range of resemblance; for both will be expressive of the common habit of the mind to step and trip in set measure. The reduction of ideas to words and the marshaling of words in expressive and conventionally regulated sentences is an intricate accomplishment, even to the expert; like all such, it requires that the technique thereof, the ability to register and manipulate the common factors that enter in kaleidoscopic shifting of position into the pattern of the fashioned product, shall have become a well-drilled habit. If we could look upon an exhibition of the art of constructing sentences with something of the objective, uninitiated attitude with which we observe the bewildering flight of the scores of bobbins and the shifting of the pins of the lace-maker, we should marvel

  1. This article will form an appendix in the volume, 'The Subsconscious,' shortly to appear from the press of Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Boston.