Oh, the letter “N”

The prompt that I chose for this week’s blog post is, “Try to have a ten minute conversation with two different people in which you DO NOT use the letter ‘n.’ Write a reflection about the experience.”

When I looked at this week’s prompts and decided which one I would do, I thought to myself, “It won’t be hard at all to have a short conversation without using the letter “n.” Wrong! I mean, let’s stop right here and count the number of times I’ve used it already – 23 times and that’s if I didn’t miss any by skipping over the short words. It’s extremely difficult to talk without using the letter “n.” This letter is ubiquitous in our language. In my conversations, which I will discuss below, I couldn’t use the present progressive tense at all. I couldn’t even say the names of my talking partners as they both had the letter “n” in them. It was a very hindering and enlightening experience in that I realized how much I take for granted the use of English language.

I used my husband as one of my talking partners. I fully explained the prompt to him. We decided to try to talk normally but eliminate the letter “n” from all of our words. As you can imagine, it was a disaster. We didn’t even come close to 10 minutes. I think we actually only lasted for 2. We couldn’t understand each other and sometimes removing the letter “n” actually changed what we were trying to say. For example, take this sentence, “I can’t understand you.” Removing all the n’s it now looks like, “I cat uderstad you.” Which would sound like, “I cat udder stad you.” It makes no sense and changes the original context and meaning of the sentence. In my head, I know what I am trying to say, but to my husband it sounds like gibberish and even though he knows what we are trying to accomplish, it still doesn’t succeed. We can’t communicate with each other. The absence of that single phoneme makes a simple sentence incomprehensible and to me it reminded me of Goldstein’s (2011) discussion of patients with Broca’s aphasia; due to brain damage in the frontal lobe, they were unable to communicate clearly (p. 33).

With my second talking partner, I didn’t completely explain the prompt. I prefaced our conversation by saying that I wanted to do an experiment with him but didn’t provide details. I started our conversation with him by saying the following, “I am to talk without the use of a specific letter for my class.” As you can see from this sentence, the conversation on my part was very stilted and slow as I had many pauses while trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say without using the letter “n.” My friend was able to guess the letter in question and he went on to ask me leading questions that normally I would be able to quickly answer but as the answers all contained the letter “n” I had to use a workaround. Here’s an example. He asked, “Can I have some money?” I couldn’t say no, nope, or nuh-uh. I had to shake my head and say uh-uh with enough emphasis to convey the negative tone. With this conversation, I was able to last about five minutes before I slipped up and said a word that had “n” in it. My partner enjoyed himself immensely in trying to trip me up.

On a funny  note, while I was trying to think of words I could say, I realized that many of our curse words do not, funnily enough, contain the letter “n.” I guess I could have liberally peppered my conversation with coarse language during my pauses. 🙂 I decided against doing this but do admit to uttering a few when I got stuck and when I slipped up.

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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