This post is also available in Dutch.
Drinking a coffee with a colleague, a cocktail in a bar with a friend, or a tea at your grandmother’s birthday… There are a lot of instances in daily life where you combine the skills of talking and drinking—while it’s actually impossible to talk with your mouth filled with fluid! How do people manage to hold a conversation while enjoying a drink?
Uh-oh, you just took a sip and now you’re expected to say something
Fortunately, this has already been investigated! Elliott Hoey, a researcher working in Nijmegen at the time of the study, watched hours of videotapes of conversations. He studied what happens when people are addressed, for example with a question, while they are taking a sip or moving a glass to their mouths in preparation for a sip. What do people do in such a situation: will they keep drinking or not? There appear to be two types of solutions.
Keep on drinking
There were cases where the people who were addressed kept drinking while responding. For example, by saying “mm-hmm,” they were still able to respond while their mouths were full. Another option is to communicate with your body: one participant used his eyebrows to respond while enjoying his beer.
Slowing or speeding up your drinking
There were also cases where the people addressed didn’t just keep drinking but halted their movement just before tipping their glasses so they could respond. And there were people already midway through their sips who quickly swallowed so they could nod or speak. This way, they were able to respond in time as is typically expected in conversation.
To drink or not to drink
The option that people chose depended on what was expected of them at that moment in the conversation. If the other asked a yes-or-no question (“Would you like to do that together?”), a simple “mm-hmm” sufficed and people could continue drinking. But if the other asked for specific information, like a number, the drinking stopped or sped up! The drinkers had to listen well to the conversation to anticipate the moment they had to respond, quickly formulate an appropriate response, and consider whether the reaction could be combined with drinking. It’s quite complicated, having a drink and a conversation at the same time!
Did you know…
- That drinking a bit of alcohol does not worsen your pronunciation in a second language and can even improve it?
- That Elliott Hoey also performed interesting research into the role of sniffing during conversations?