I just noticed, in Ms. Branson's second sentence, that — as she struggles to produce intelligible speech — there is a conspicuous amount of consonance, assonance, and alliteration: "darist-darison" and "hit teret taysan those to the bet who had / head the pet".
I think that this phenomenon offers clues to how the brain functions to produce speech. Namely, in trying to call up a word, we focus on certain key phonemes within it. Certainly this is how I search for a word that is "on the tip of my tongue." We often say (usually merely mentally), "What's that word I'm thinking of? It begins with a 't,' or it begins with a 'd'." Or, "I'm thinking of a word that sounds something like -a-e-," concentrating more on the vowels in the latter case and more on the consonants in the former case. If we are not rushed and performing in front of an audience, this method often works. But if you're live on radio or TV, you don't have time to dredge up the words that you only partially recall. In such cases, skillful and highly experienced media personalities will make a joke about themselves or figure out other clever ways to stall while trying to dredge up the lost word, or simply go around the blocked word and come up with a synonym or circumlocution that gets the idea across some other way.
Once a person's "motor mouth" starts producing gibberish composed only of parts of words that they wanted to say, then it's likely that they will end up with a cascade of nonsense vocables.
I have the impression that she recognized the problem very quickly. Her demeanor changed coincident with "let's go," which is the typical way to begin "passing the camera" to someone else. If you consider the vowels and syllables, I wonder if "teret taysan" is what came out as she was trying to sign off with her name, "Serene Branson." I can almost hear "Let's go. This is Serene Branson . . ."
I feel it's important to know how she is doing now. CBS says she feels fine and is perfectly OK. And the culprit everyone imputes is a stroke. TIAs are significant warning signs, yet regardless of cause, this seems not to be an innocuous case of stage fright. If this happened to me, what should I do next, medically?
[(myl) If it happened to me, I'd get a full neurological work-up right away. The fact that Ms. Burton has apparently not done this is widely viewed as puzzling. I hope that this is because she's already aware of a relatively benign cause, such as a history of minor seizures with no worrying underlying pathology.]
Several years before he died, my father (a vascular surgeon) suffered a TIA. In his case, the major symptom was complete loss of vision. The first thing he did was take some aspirin to thin the blood. Then off to the hospital (his wife drove). His vision was back in an hour, and he recovered completely. (His death from cancer was unrelated.) There was no way of knowing if or how much the aspirin helped, but everyone agreed it was a good idea.
I think that Spell Me Jeff (in his first comment) is spot on. Ms. Branson was conscious of what was happening to her and she was trying to salvage her hand-off. The "let's go" is short for "let's go to… (another reporter somewhere else)," and "hit teret taysan" may be a deformation of "this is Serene Branson." From there to the end of the clip, it is amazing that she maintains the proper wind-down intonation for a reporter who is passing the microphone to another reporter. If you're just listening to the intonation and not paying attention to the individual "words," it sounds almost normal, not garbled at all. To me, it's heroic that — considering the circumstances — she could do that with such seeming aplomb, especially since (again, as Spell Me Jeff pointed out), by the time she said "let's go," she was clearly aware that something was seriously amiss with her speech production. An impressive recovery and closing.
MYL's comment to Mr Fnortner is in keeping with VM's comment. Someone experiencing such a moment on the air for the first time could certainly be excused for totally freaking out. Experience and natural poise might have helped. But foreknowledge of the condition is also a reasonable explanation. And if that's the case, I'd imagine that TIA is ruled out.
Even if Spell Me Jeff is right about foreknowledge (and I think he is), what must it have been like to think one message and hear yourself utter something startlingly different? Then to be so aware of the disconnect that you willed yourself a deliberate conclusion, only to have those words turn to gibberish? Like being seriously drunk? Like rotating your monitor image 90 degrees then trying to use the mouse? Some web sites I've seen ridicule her moment, but I think her aplomb was heroic.
Mr. Fnortner: NO OFFENSE INTENDED! It was I myself, not you, who copied — your name — from a comment by "Spell Me Jeff" & thought in so doing had repeated Jeff's typo, which was NO typo: So the comment which offends you was my attempt to put a correctly spelt "Fortner."
Only now, responding with my attempt to apologize to you, do I realize that you are signing as "Fnortner." This is almost on a comedic level, a series of misunderstandings, hope I managed to explain myself. if not let me know.
She has my sincere sympathy. If that happened to me I'd be scarred for life!
But have we witnessed the birth of a new word? Is "(heavy) burtation" now to become a popular term for an aphasic episode or other spectacular speech error? I speculate that this might have some potential, as it means something we don't have many good nontechnical words for and that happens often enough to merit one, while the word itself carries an appropriate echo of "blurt" and comes pre-packaged with a good scalar adjective for the severity of the screwup. It's certainly way ahead of "refudiate" on these points, and look how far that one got…
I've known people with seizure disorders who were affected by flashing, bright lights. One had a seizure after a prolonged thunderstorm with lots of lightning, viewed while doing dishes at a sink in front of a window.
I happened to watch the Grammys for the first time in years, and I wondered if the Arcade Fire show with its constant flashing might have set off seizures in some sensitive people. Since I'm not a neurologist, I have no idea if Arcade Fire's light show was a factor.
Like others, my sympathies to the reporter, who surely did not start the night expecting to be diagnosed by every armchair viewer.
Thanks for that. After frustrating searches on Google and Medline, I was unable to determine if such aphasia could present acutely and quickly wear off. Indeed, most of the abstracts I read described chronic aphasia. What were termed "episodes" (one of my search words) tended to last weeks or months rather than minutes or hours.
Your story confirms the possibility that Branson suffered an acute event that seems to have worn off pretty quickly.
This happened to me a few months before my first and only tonic clonic (epileptic) seizure which started in the temporal lobe with an auditory hallucination. I have since had a few brief dysphasic episodes due to the antiseizure medication. The neurologist gave me a word test, I had to list words starting with D for thirty seconds. I was happy to ace the test.
This isn't aphasia which means lack of speech, it is dysphasia.
[(amz) You're suffering from the etymological fallacy. Yes, by its etymology, aphasia ought to refer to a lack of speech, but the long-established usage — in particular, the usage of aphasiologists — of the word refers to disordered speech, or dysphasia.
This doesn't detract from your personal story, or your advice below. (By 1996 my guy Jacques had developed epilepsy, but the complex partial seizures of left temporal lobe epilepsy, characterized by absences and automatisms, rather than the more dramatic tonic-clonic seizures.)]
She should have at least a CT scan and MRI, and an EEG. Probably this is a partial temporal lobe seizure, but they can be triggered by a variety of things from sleep deprivation to a space-occupying lesion and need investigating. Perhaps she has had them for years, who knows.
@Jeff, there is a selection effect, in that articles about neurological deficits tend to only get written if the deficit hangs around long enough for someone to get to a specialist who characterizes them and writes about them. So all the literature on neuropsychology talks about strokes and traumatic injuries, whereas migraines, seizures and TIAs are actually more common ways of producing the same focal neurological signs in the short term.
rre, words mean what everybody means using them, etymology is a lot of fun exactly for that reason. Otherwise a pedophile should be a friend of children and an assassin should be a person that smokes hashish. What she had is a typical Broca's aphasia. I had a brain hemorrhage in my Broca's area and I had the same problem for a lot longer. I doubt she was really figuring it out if not just faintly, the beautiful thing of having expressive aphasia is experiencing how we don't hear at all what we say, because we're so used to the activity of our arcuate fasciculus that connects so well our speech production and comprehension areas. Her aplomb is a little overrated too, when a part of the brain is temporarily not functional the others keep going well, sometimes without any effect. It took me three days to figure out I was aphasic when I was annoyed and asked "are you all fucking retarded today?" and my sister caressed my had saying "Lorenzo, believe me, it's really hard for us to understand what you are talking about". I said all sorts of funny things and I did it with my usual facial expressions, my same confidence, my typical behavior. It was really strange, I was even convincing my friend Veronica telling her a story about some other imaginary girl with an invented funny name, it's not aplomb, it's just Broca's aphasia. She most probably had a TIA and I can see that from the motion of her mouth that shows a little deficit of her left hemisphere that happens a little too fast to be an extension of an epileptic fit from Broca to motor cortex. I would rather think of a TIA due to migraine or thrombosis with quick dissolution.
The change of expression as it dawns on her that she CAN NOT control what she is saying is horrifying to watch.
I don't mean to make light of her painful event, but I could not help being reminded of my dating years while trying to talk to any young woman that I was attracted to. I believe she actually performed better than several notable instances of my own verbal calamities.
"Are there any more examples of this happening to reporters live? Its fascinating."
About a month before Serene Branson, Sarah Carlson suffered a seizure while live on the air at WISC in Madison, WI. It actually looked VERY similar to Serene Branson's episode.She had surgery to remove a brain tumor four months earlier.
As for Ms. Branson, she said in an interview that she was trying to say, "Lady Antebellum swept the Grammys". I believe she started out by trying to say something maybe to the effect of, "There was a very high expectation", or something similar, as in the idea that it was expected that Eminem would win big. When she realized she was in trouble I think she attempted to say something like, "Let's go ahead and go to the tape'. Immediately after this incident they cut to the pre-recorded segment of her report.
Thank you Bert, very interesting. It's a different story though, Sarah had an epileptic fit and figured it out while saying Florida trying to fight hard against it. Great job.
Serene had expressive aphasia and was speaking the way I was speaking when I was suffering that. I'm still not sure she completely realized that something was wrong during the shooting.