Here’s an easier one for you, since I’ve really worked your brains on the last few. Hey, you’re taking my graduate level linguistics classes along with me, so if you’ve been able to think through some of these things, you’re doing great!
But here are a few sentences that I’d like you to finish:
1. He killed it, cooked it, and ________.
2. He went home, brushed his teeth, put on his pajamas, and ________.
3. He died and ______.
4. They got married and ______.
5. At the picnic they had hot dogs and _______.
Though you may not complete them with the exact same words as someone else, if you’re a native English speaker in the US, there are probably only a few options that most all of you would put in those blanks. The ones that first come to my mind are the following:
1. ate it.
2. went to bed.
3. EITHER was buried OR went to heaven.
4. went on their honeymoon OR had a baby OR enjoyed a long and happy life.
How many of you had the same answers as I did? These things are called Expectancy Chains. It means that they are things that we normally put together in this order and we’re so used to hearing the whole progression that we can almost finish the sentence before the person who’s talking to us finishes saying it. But if you break an expectancy chain, saying something that the person you’re talking to didn’t expect, it will usually cause your listener to do a double-take or at least use more processing power to actually catch what’s going on. Imagine, if instead of telling you that “Mrs. Smith died and was buried,” I told you that “Mrs. Smith died and then started talking.” It would be really weird. Or even if I just told you “Mrs. Smith died and blood came out of her nose,” it wouldn’t be quite as weird, but it still wouldn’t be what you were EXPECTING me to say. Right?
Each language has their own Expectancy Chains, and in order to sound “normal” and “easy to listen to,” someone who’s learning the language has to learn what is expected in that language. For example, in My Language, I can’t say, “Please give me that pot over there.” Instead, I’d have to say, “Take that pot over there and give it to me.” In English, we don’t have the Expectancy Chain of “take it and give it to me,” but they do. In order for my speech to sound natural, I need to learn how to say what they expect to hear.
Here’s another example for you. How would you fill in the following sentence:
He went to town and __________.
If you’re like me, you probably wouldn’t know what was expected next. But in Kasem, another language spoken in West Africa, people could fill that in just as easily as you could fill in “hot dogs and hamburgers.” They’d say, “He went to town and arrived.”
Beyond just speech, this is important in Bible translation as well. If we were translating a verse into Kasem, for example, that said that Jesus went to Capernaum, if we didn’t add “and arrived,” they’d be waiting for your to finish your sentence and wonder if He ever made it or not, missing the rest of the story as they try to imagine where He still is on His journey.
Can you think of any other possible Expectancy Chains in English or other languages you know?