The difference between English and American speaking

I find English speakers talk too much and say too little, for the amount of words they use.

For example,  here is the British biologist Simon Conway Morris. He is known for his work on what is called “convergence”. The idea is that biological forms have a narrow range, and that species converge on some particular forms: canid, ape, bird, whale, bug and so forth. The wild variety of possibilities in theory are narrower in fact: gravity, land, sea, buoyancy, air, lift, and thousands of factors reduce and channel the possibilities, so that marsupial, lizard and mammal converge on a limited number of forms.

I could cite Raymond Tallis, Roger Scruton, or, to a lesser extent, Rupert Sheldrake. All four are fine thinkers, and Sheldrake is, by comparison, a good direct speaker.

However, if you follow their Youtube lectures, you are confronted with a massive wastage of words, and frequently – always in the case of Tallis – just  the reading of a text rather than the giving of a speech – and a failure to announce, from the beginning of the speech, what they intend to talk about, why they believe as they do, and to summarize what they have said, with a view to persuading the audience of a particular argument.

I would venture to suggest that other speakers from the British Isles do NOT speak this way. Scots and Ulstermen (the same tribe on two sides of the Irish Sea) do not speak in the voluminous, discursive, and witty way. They speak like North Americans do, with a view to persuading, being clear, and not in spending time showing how erudite they are.

Watch William Lane Craig debate the existence of God for example. Or the Oxford Professor and Ulsterman John Lennox. Each is completely clear in his speech, each understands the argument he is about to make, and each announces his argument without much verbal foreplay.

The TED talk is the perfect expression of this style of speaking: say it clear, say it sincerely, and get over with it in ten to fifteen minutes, free of diversion, free of asides, and free from the need to prove you can quote Catullus, Nietzsche, or Homer so that the world will know how well educated you are.

In the time I have been writing  this brief essay, Simon Conway Morris has still not completed his talk, and I still remain unclear as to what he is talking about. It is fascinating, but still unclear. No American debater would dare take so much time, or indulge in so much wool-gathering.

 

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