have...spoke...have...

< Previous | Next >

NewAmerica

Banned
Mandarin
The past tense "spoke" appears to be unusual to me.

First, the author uses simple present ("how people have a natural aversion..."), then uses simple past ("The psychology literature spoke of the human attraction..."), then changes to use simple present ("Psychologists have a word for it") again.

Is "speak of" better than "spoke of" there? It would look consistent.

*****************
When I started writing Elastic, it confused me—I kept running into articles in the Harvard Business Review and other business journals about how people have a natural aversion to change. The psychology literature, meanwhile, spoke of the human attraction to novelty and change. Psychologists have a word for it, “neophilia.” It is what encouraged our prehistoric ancestors to explore and experiment even when their lives were just fine.

-Scientific American

Source
 
Last edited:
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    "Speaks" would be a reasonable substitute for "spoke" in that paragraph, New America. I suppose the author chose "spoke" because he was referring to things that were already written at the time that he read them. Little shifts in tenses aren't unusual in speech as the speaker's mind wanders from one point to another in an explanation of something or an answer to a question.
     

    NewAmerica

    Banned
    Mandarin
    Thank you.

    I suppose the author chose "spoke" because he was referring to things that were already written at the time that he read them.
    Yeah that is exactly the question: Things already written in articles in the Harvard Business Review and other business journals, yet the author uses simple present for the content in the articles.

    The author is consistent: literature "spoke" (to him) matches "I kept running into" and "I started writing". He speaks of his actions in the past tense, consistently.
    Yes, articles in the Harvard Business Review and other business journals "spoke", and the people in the articles spoke and had a natural tendency (yet the author uses "have"). He's not consistent.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I agree that he made no particular effort to be consistent in his choice of verb tenses. As I mentioned in the last post, this sort of inconsistency is common when people are speaking and are not focusing on their verb tenses as they answer a question. Spontaneous speech is not as polished as finished prose is, and it would be unreasonable to expect a speaker to achieve that sort of polish in his speech.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I think the difference is the context of the verbs. A context doesn't just exist for the paragraph as a whole but can also exist for different ideas within each sentence.

    When I started [completed event in the past] writing Elastic, it confused [completed ongoing event in the past] me—I kept running into [ongoing event in the past] articles in the Harvard Business Review and other business journals about how people have [ongoing state of being] a natural aversion to change. The psychology literature, meanwhile, spoke [a reference to either its publication or his reading of it as a completed event in the past] of the human attraction to novelty and change. Psychologists have [ongoing state of being] a word for it, “neophilia.” It is [ongoing state of being] what encouraged [ongoing event in the past] our prehistoric ancestors to explore [ongoing historical present] and experiment [ongoing historical present] even when their lives were [ongoing state of being in the past] just fine.


    That's why I said in the other thread about this paragraph that it was unclear to me whether "it confused me" applies to just the first part or as a contrast between both parts. To me, "the psychology literature spoke" sounds like it's possible that he had read that psychology literature before he started the job of writing Elastic (i.e. it was a completed event in the/his past) and only started reading the Harvard Business Review journals after starting the job of writing Elastic (it was an ongoing event at that time).

    It would not surprise me if he came from a psychology background and not a business background.

    Added:
    He's a physicist but also an author and public speaker who thinks about the origin and meaning of life. Here are the titles of some of his publications:

    • Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
    • The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos
    • The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
    There's not a single business-oriented title listed in the Wikipedia article about him and his writings.

    All that deduced from the word "spoke".
     
    Last edited:

    NewAmerica

    Banned
    Mandarin
    Good catch. :idea:

    By default, I just read "spoke" as "speaks" and ignore the confusion he has inadvertently brought to the reader.:D
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    He was being precise in each tense choice, not random.:)
    And I'm sure it was all completely subconscious because as a public speaker he knows what he wants to say and exactly how to say it without thinking about it.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top