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Slips of The Tongue

Olivia's picture

Imagine you and your boyfriend were lying in bed, holding each other, comfortably and delightfully. And all of a sudden, he called you by his previous girlfriend’s name. What would you do? Did he call the ex’s name because he still had feelings for her? Or did he, as he would defend for himself, just make a slip of tongue? And can we judge whom your boyfriend truly loved by that slip? To understand what he was really thinking about at that moment, we have to examine what slips of the tongue are and what they can tell us.


Definitions of “slips of the tongue” in the dictionary are very vague. By Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, a slip of tongue is when someone says something that they did not intend to say. By this definition, a slip of tongue is not intentional and can’t represent the true feelings of a person. Another definition by Sigmund Freud says the opposite. He thinks that slips of the tongue “have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed intentions and intentions”(Freud, Strachey, and Gay 52). By his definition, slips of the tongue can show the real intention of a person and his or her true desires. Those two definitions are opposed to each other but at the same time both make sense in certain cases. And there comes the muddle. Which definition is right?


Psychologists and linguists are trying to categorize different tongue slips in order to analyze their causes. One type of slip can be explained by Freud’s theory. A famous example is that “ the way in which the President of the Lower House of the Austrian Parliament opened the sitting …: 'Gentlemen: I take notice that a full quorum of members is present and herewith declare the sitting closed!'” (Warren) In this slip of the tongue actually expressed his true desire, which is that he wished the sitting could be over. But since he was the President who had to open the sitting, he had to repress his real feelings.


However, not every case can be explained by Freud’s proposition. Here is another example: Originally some one tried to say, “have a bike”, but he ended up saying “bave a bike”. In the case of word substitution slips such as the one mentioned above, what the person tries to say and what he has said are consistent. There are no suppressed impulses. In that particular example, he made mistakes probably because his ideas were generated faster than he put words together. In his mind, his unconsciousness had the idea “have a bike”, but his consciousness, which constructed the sentence, only prepared the word “bike” and was preparing the rest of the phrase. When the consciousness was still processing, he spoke out loud. Therefore, the “b” of the “bike” came out first.


Not all word substitution slips can be explained in this way. Psychologist Zenzi M. Griffin studied the cases in which slips of the tongue are caused by gazes. (Griffin) For instance, during a lecture, the speaker attempted to say, “I have a magic stone.” But he saw an empty seat while he was stating it, and he instead produced, “I have a empty seat.” It happened probably because the speaker was very familiar with the speech, and he delivered it without paying too much attention to it. His consciousness lost tension, or even turned off. He spoke the words automatically, or unconsciously. Then when he saw the empty seat, his unconsciousness perceived it, and without the control of consciousness, the unconsciousness was carried out by words.


Another type of slips of the tongue involves connections between feelings and subjects. Once a friend was having lunch with me, and suddenly she said to me, “Mom, this tastes so delicious!” We were both shocked, she more embarrassed. But later she explained that she felt she was having lunch at home, eating homemade food. Her unconsciousness connected the comfortable feelings with her home and mother. And without the control of the consciousness, she just produced the word “mom”.


There are definitely other sorts of slips of the tongue. But the types and particular cases above already allow us to derive some common causes for slips of the tongue. Usually, people use the phrase “thinking out loud” for reasoning through talking. I think slips of the tongue are also products of “thinking out loud”. When we think out loud, we talk while our consciousness is thinking, and we immediately produce what our conscious thoughts are. But in the slips of the tongue, we produce what our unconscious thoughts are. Our unconsciousness is carried out by words unmindfully. After we hear the errors, our consciousness seems to be stimulated and takes over control again by correcting the mistakes. So, are slips of the tongue the real intentions? To some extent yes. They honestly show what our unconsciousness is, but they don’t represent our consciousness.


Back to the scenario at the beginning of this paper, the boyfriend was definitely thinking of his ex, in his unconsciousness. But it was hard to make a judgment of whether he still had feelings for her. It could be that he repressed his love for that girl. But it also could be that his unconsciousness associated the comfort after sex with the name of his ex. Thus, by the second explanation, he then had no feelings for his ex girlfriend. It all depends on what tricks his unconsciousness plays.





Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund, James Strachey, and Peter Gay. An Autobiographical Study. New York: Norton, 1989. Print.

Warren, Hermine. "Slips of the Tongue in Very Young Children." Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, Vol. 15, No. 4, 1986

Griffin, Zenzi M.. "Slip Of The Tongue: Word Substitution Mistakes Have More To Do With." ScienceDaily 14 December 2004. 2 December 2010 <­ /releases/2004/12/041208231052.htm>.