"The Vanishing Verb" in TV news

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sat Aug 25 18:37:19 UTC 2001

Yes, there is something going on indeed. Another national newscast
about language and no linguists consulted.

Damn shame.


>In case anyone missed the NewsHour last night, here's the link to their
>piece "The Vanishing Verb: Examining the Changing Language of TV News":
>There are interesting clues about nonlinguists' views on language in this:
>the idea seems to be that, for more efficiency and immediacy, people
>delivering news on TV should eliminate verbs while also keeping everything
>in present tense... huh? how are they going to manage *that*? Well, from
>the examples given, I suspect that they actually advocate leaving out BE
>verbs, and that a structure with one or more auxiliary verbs is considered
>too lengthy and complex and labeled "not present tense".
>In an interview in the NewsHour piece, Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel
>anchor, explains:  "...sometimes the verbs just aren't necessary. It's,
>'President Bush in Washington today.' I don't need to say, 'He is in
>Washington today.' 'President Bush in Washington today, talking with Colin
>Powell, getting ready for a trip overseas. Telling others yesterday about
>what happened when, dah, dah, dah, dah.' You don't need all of those
>verbs."  Wait a minute... wouldn't it be a split second quicker to say
>'President Bush in Washington today, *talks* with Colin Powell, *gets*
>ready for a trip overseas, *tells* others yesterday about...' ? There
>seems to be something more going on beyond what the interviewees in this
>story explicitly state.
>"The biggest thing is getting used to not having a heartbeat."
>                 --Robert Tools

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at pilot.msu.edu
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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