Have you ever gotten a call from a telemarketer that’s just a little bit off? I received one like this a while back:
“Hi, this is Robert from (somewhere). How are you today?”
“I’m doing well, how about yourself?”
(2 second pause)
“It’s good! I just wanted to tell you about…”
They may sound like a robot trying to impersonate human speech and fudging the details, but you’re technically talking to an actual human. Someone is listening to you and choosing from pre-recorded phrases. Often, these are people with heavy accents who otherwise wouldn’t be able to hold a telemarketing job because potential customers would just hang up on them the moment they started talking. Even if they had time to deliver their pitch, it would be difficult to make a sale to someone who had trouble understanding them.
It’s creepy, and I resent feeling like someone is trying to fool me, but I’ve got no problems with a system that gives jobs to people who might not have better employment opportunities. And this actually wastes less of my time, because I usually let a real person talk for a little bit longer before I hang up on them.
Of course, now that I know this, I’m going to start saying things that their machines can’t answer.
“What color is the sky?”
“Who’s the Pope?”
“How tall are dogs?”
“What kind of fruit would look best atop a festive hat?”
To be fair I don’t think anyone in any language would have an answer to “How tall are dogs?”
No, but you can tell whether they’re human by whether they say some stock phrase like “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Could you repeat that?” or just “Huh?”
so in academic parlance, phrases like “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that…” or “huh?” are examples of conversational repair. What you’re pointing out is that you can tell if someone is human or not by whether they are using appropriate repair. However, I would say that if you’re dealing with people who don’t speak English as their first language, they may not be savvy at conversational repair in English, and thus it’s perfectly possible they might say something formal like “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Could you repeat that?” Just my two cents!
Certainly, but you can most often tell when someone is speaking English as a second language by the sound of their voice or the pace of their speech. Prerecorded voices speak with perfect diction and maximum confidence, and are thus distinguishable from someone who is speaking formally because they don’t know how to say anything else.
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