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While working on a translation (AmE to Por-BR), I came across the following sentence:
'I feel the need to speak to what I think of the book some three years later.'

I don't think I've ever heard this form before and, were I to choose a way of communicating (what I suppose is) the same idea, I would probably choose 'speak of what I think...' or 'speak about what I think...' Does that sound alright? Is it a matter of collocation? Is it because 'about' is more often used with 'talk' rather than 'speak'? I don't know, it just feels weird to me.

Here are some examples I found listed on Google's search results:

'... of human biology, of human evolution, that all speak to what's special about the human species.' [speak to what + VERB]

'... I speak to what appear to be features of Chomsky's views of science...' [speak to what + VERB]

'... I'd like to speak to what's wrong with your car...' [speak to what + VERB]

'Speak to what you want to create.' [speak to what + PRONOUN]

'I am without OED access, so can't speak to what they may have.' [speak to what + PRONOUN]

'I can't speak to what Korean-Koreans think of Kyopos...' [speak to what + NOUN]

'I can't speak to the history behind the words "low level programming", but I can speak to what it means.' [speak to + ARTICLE + NOUN]; [speak to what + PRONOUN]

Am I overthinking this? Is it just a way of saying 'talk about', or 'speak of', or is there a different usage to it? Could it be that 'speak to (what)' may only be used in specific situations?

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"Speak to", is another way of saying "address", the verb. In fact, looking up "address" just now, the definition for the verb is "speak to", so the two things can be thought of being synonymous. Similarly "speaks to " can be thought of as synonymous with "addresses" (again, the verb form).

All of your examples appear to be grammatical, and it's easier to see this if you simply replace "speak to" with "address", eg

"...of human evolution, that all address what's special about the human species"

etc.

I don't see how the above example is "speak to what + VERB" though. "what's special" is a noun here - the list of things that are special.

EDIT: in case it's not obvious, it's much more common in regular usage to use "address" rather than "speak to", and in fact I'd recommend it to avoid confusion.

  • In that quote, "... of human evolution, that all is evidence for what's special..." perhaps? – Jacinto Aug 17 '16 at 15:20
  • Sorry @Jacinto but I don't understand your point. – Max Williams Aug 17 '16 at 15:26
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    Speak to can also mean be evidence for. I wonder whether this could be the case in that sentence. – Jacinto Aug 17 '16 at 15:32
  • Is is a verb. “Speak to what is special…”. What’s special is not a noun, but the beginning of a relative clause, more specifically its subject, matrix verb, and the first part of the predicative complement to the subject. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 17 '16 at 15:40
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    @Jacinto it appears you're right - it can be used in many ways, including "is evidence of/for", according to this article at least: grammarist.com/usage/speak-to – Max Williams Aug 17 '16 at 15:56

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