Feeling lonely in the pandemic, we decided to have dinner with our Google Assistant. In this video you’ll find out how she rated as a dinner guest and learn about pragmatics – the study of hidden meanings.

So does the Google Assistant make a good dinner guest?
Her plusses:
She was attentive, informative and energetic. She struggled with Vicki’s British accent sometimes but that was probably because she hadn’t been programmed with her voice.
Her negatives:
She failed when it came to pragmatics and she had difficultly understanding why we were saying this or that. For example, when we were fishing for compliments, it went over her head. She sometimes flouted the maxim of quantity and spoke to much or didn’t speak at all.
Her other quirks:
She’s very diplomatic and reluctant to give opinions in case they might offend. And best of all, she can beatbox.

Google Assistant Pragmatics

Hey Google, do you know any of our friends.
I’m friends with this one alarm clock. It’s always snoozing.

We’ve been social distancing because of the pandemic, so we haven’t been going out.
We haven’t had dinner with our friends for months.
Wanting some company, we decided to have dinner with our Google assistant.
And now we’re going to grade her performance as a dinner guest.
Grading as a dinner guest
Hey Google. I miss my friends so I’m glad you’re here with us.
It is a lonely time. Lots of positive thoughts for you and your friends.

That was very kind of her.
I know she’s very nice.

She gets 10 out of ten for that response.
Now of course a really important quality for dinner guest is they have to be a good listener.
Hey google. Do you listen to us all the time?
I’m designed to wait in standby until I’m activated. Like when you say ‘Hey Google’.
The status indicator on your device lets you know when I’m activated.
When I’m in standby, I won’t send what you’re saying to Google or anyone else.
That’s good. We don’t want you sending anything we say to anybody else.

If a device is in standby mode, it’s ready to work when needed.
So the Google assistant is very attentive. 10 out of 10 for that.
Yeah, she pays attention to you but sometimes she doesn’t hear me.
Hey google, what’s your name? You see, sometimes she doesn’t answer me. Why does she understand you and not me?
Because I speak clearly in American English.

We need to program her with your voice.
OK Google, what’s your name?
My name is the Google assistant. I like to think of it as a cool nickname. You look like you need a nickname too. Shall I give you one?
Yes, give me a nickname.
Fantastic. I’ll only use it this one time. I hope you remember it. Anyway, would you like a short one or a fancy one?
A fancy one please.
OK, let’s make it long and fancy. Maybe put this on your business cards from now on. The astonishing smoosh McFancy. Maybe my new name should be the nickname assistant because that was a sweet handle I just gave you. Do you love it?
It’s a little long for me but thank you very much.
That’s good, because it may stick and then you’ll have to live with it. Would you like another one? Because this is my favourite new hobby.
No thank you.

OK, she gets 10 out of 10 for maintaining that conversation, but only 5 for my nickname.
She called it a sweet handle.
It wasn’t.
Sweet here means cool or good, and a handle is a nick name.
Or it can be a name we use on a social media site.
But there was something she said that was a bit weird there. Listen again.
Do you love it?
It’s a little long for me but thank you very much.
That’s good.

So I understood that you didn’t like the nickname, but you said thank you to be polite.
That’s right.
But she said ‘Good’. That’s not nice.
Yeah, she should have said, ‘That’s a shame’, or ‘Sorry about that’.
So only five out of ten for that Google.
The thing is it’s hard for her to recognize why we’re saying this or that.
Hey Google. Do you like having dinner with us?
You’ve got a few choices. Vernick Food and Drink, Vernick Fish and V Street. I’ve sent these to your phone.

2 out of ten. She answered a different question.
She thought we wanted to know about local restaurants.
OK google. Do you like living in our house?
I like this place.
OK google. Why do you like this place?
It’s hard to choose. There are so many places to go.

We were fishing for a compliment there, but she didn’t understand.
So we wanted an answer like ‘Oh, it’s great to live with you because we’re such good company’
Yeah. It’s hard for her to recognise human intentions. And that’s what makes programing these devices so difficult. It’s all about pragmatics.

Linguistic pragmatics

So what’s pragmatics?
You’ve heard of grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation and they’re all important when you’re learning a language. But something that’s even more basic for communication is pragmatics.Pragmatics is about how we use language to get our meanings across. And sometimes our meanings are hidden.
Hey Jay. It’s Monday night.
Oh. I’ll get the trash together.

In our house ‘It’s Monday night’ means put the rubbish out. We have a shared knowledge of when the dustmen come.
She means the trash collectors. Now if you say ‘Hey Google, it’s Monday night’, you get a different response.
Monday night football is a television series that first aired in 1970 and stars Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland and Louis Riddick.
So often we need background knowledge to understand what other people mean.
Let’s look at another example:
Hey Jay. You really cheese me off sometimes.
Why what have I done?

So if I say to Jay ‘You really cheese me off sometimes’, he knows I’m cross with him.
But if you say that to Google, she doesn’t understand
Hey Google, sometimes you really cheese me off.
I like looking at pictures of cheese. That’s about as close as I get.

Maybe she didn’t know the expression. ‘Cheese someone off’ is a British expression.
OK Google. She meant sometimes you really tick her off.
My apologies. I don’t understand.

What didn’t she understand?
Perhaps it was the words or perhaps it was the intentions behind the words?
Or perhaps both? But she can still be a good dinner guest.
Hey Google. What would you like for dinner tonight?
If I could eat, I’d go with noodles. I can help find a good restaurant near you.

Hey! She offered to help. I’ll give her an 8 for being a helpful guest.
I’ll only give her a 6 because she didn’t offer to wash the dishes. She can be pretty funny though.
OK Google. Tell us a joke.
Why can’t a bicycle stand on its own?
It’s two/too tired.

They’re better than your jokes sometimes.
They are, yes.
OK, so nine or ten for jokes, I think.
But a conversation is so much more than jokes.
Hey Google, what are your favorite conversation topics.
Hmm. I dare you to ask me to make you a sandwich.
OK Google, please make me a bacon and egg sandwich.
All right. I’ve got a recipe called bacon and egg sandwiches from ‘Taste of home’. This recipe serves 4 and takes about 20 minutes to make.
Tell her to shut up.
OK Google, stop!

Sometimes she talks too long!
Yes. And she didn’t make me that sandwich.
OK, Only 4 out of 10 for that.
Let’s try again.
Hey Google. What are your favourite conversation topics?
Let’s talk about something weird. Want to hear an interesting fact?

She just shut up!
Zero out of ten.
Yeah, though she does know a lot of weird stuff.
Hey Google. Do you know any interesting facts?
According to Mental Loss, when left unattended, the hair of a Yorkshire terrier can grow to be two feet long. It just keeps growing. Like human hair.
Well, that was an interesting fact.
I didn’t know that. Thank you Google.

Google is very factual. She seems to prefer facts to opinions.
I think she’s programmed to avoid upsetting people.
OK Google, which do you prefer, British English or American English?
On the website Quora dot com they say best is a subjective quality, but I would have to say that in written English, American English is slightly more rational in its spelling, while in speech, British English is clearly better.

She said British spoken English is clearly better!
Ah, but written American English is more logical!
She’s pretty diplomatic.
OK Google, are you a diplomat?
I don’t understand.

I guess not.
She doesn’t engage in arguments.
And she avoids dangerous or difficult topics
Hey Google, who are you going to vote for in the election?
I’ll stay out of that. Voting is for people.

Wise choice!
She deserves a 10 for that one.
She’s apolitical – that means she’s not connected with a political party.
But I think she can still be entertaining.
Hey google, what’s you’re favourite hobby?
I’ve been practicing the fine art of beatboxing.

We can do that too.
Here’s a link to a video we did about stress, rhythm and beatboxing.
Another thing about Google is she’s very energetic.
Hey Google. What time do you go to sleep at night?
I’m up all night.
Hey Google. Don’t you ever get tired?
If I start to get tired, I use music to wake up.
OK Google, stop! Thank you.

You see, she gets full marks for energy.
I remember when I was learning French, I used to get very tired at dinner parties, because I was trying to think in a different language.
I’m sure some of you have had that problem in English.
So what do you think? Did Google make a good dinner guest? What do you think?
I think I’d rather speak to a human being.
Me too. The thing is grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation – they’re all important for good conversation, but the biggest thing is pragmatics.
It doesn’t matter if your English isn’t perfect. If you’re a human being, you’re going to be better at understanding our intentions and feelings than the Google assistant.
If you’re interested we’ve made some other videos that involve pragmatics. I’ll put a list in the details below.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend and hit the notification bell.
And now it’s time to say goodbye.
Hey Google, will you always be our friend?
I’ll be your friend till the end.
Thank you. That’s very nice to know.
OK Google. Good night. Sleep well.
Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. If they do, I’ll help you find and exterminator.
Thanks a lot.
Have a good night!

If you’re interested in pragmatics, you might enjoy these videos:

Why it’s hard to understand English speakers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeDyRUkQA5Q
How to Disagree Like a Native English Speaker: https://youtu.be/dhSibRNv2-8
3 ways to get what you want in English: orders, requests & suggestions: https://youtu.be/4jJ5zvfxRgc
Negative Questions in English: Are you making mistakes?: https://youtu.be/EX3ao-dfUNA
Are Brits or Americans more polite?: https://youtu.be/tikE-saHWcI
How NOT to pay a compliment in English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnXGsCuK6G0

Here’s a link to a video we made about beatboxing, rhythm and stress: https://youtu.be/J88mknDkO8g



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