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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-03-28 17:58
Subject: A bit more on spoken vs written word
Security: Public
Tags:language, process, writing
I'm still noodling this whole echoes/puns thing. (See my previous posts if you missed earlier portions of this discussion.)

One thing that's interesting to me is how noisy (in the communications theory sense of the term) ordinary speech is. We all edit this out constantly, but if you look at an accurate transcription of almost any speech stream, it's full of garbage -- repetitions, dropped words, misused words, stammers, syntactically neutral placeholders, random noises, etc. I myself stammer on a fairly regular basis, but I don't think many people notice it.

Yet in written text, there is (rightly) a premium on clarity. Even written dialog, as within a work of fiction, can sustain only a small amount of that 'noise.' Consider how negatively some people react to "eye dialect" Wikipedia ]. I have to read portions of Tom Sawyer aloud, and all of Riddley Walker has to be read that way to be understood in the slightest.

So written text, even when it's aspiring to represent the spoken word, is offering a highly idealized version of speech. Likewise the potentially complex structures of written text correspond to the ordinary speech patterns of no one this side of William F. Buckley.

Kevin J. Anderson reportedly writes some of his books by dictating them into a recorder and having them transcribed. For me, the language which flows out of my fingers is so distinct from the language which comes out of my mouth that I might as well be working with two different brains.
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Tansy Rayner Roberts: writer
User: cassiphone
Date: 2007-03-29 01:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've heard an interesting theory that typing uses both sides of the brain, as opposed to writing, which mainly uses one - which explains why original writing via keyboard is different to writing longhand.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-03-29 02:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've had to transcribe interview tapes as a part of fieldwork. Not only is it a nightmarish pain, but yeah -- people talk garbage compared to how they write, and one ends up having to do a certain amount of editing just to keep the interviewee from sounding like an idiot. What sounds perfectly intelligent when heard ends up as something an immigrant in remedial English classes would laugh at when printed on the page.

Someday, when dictation programs are good enough, I'd be interested to see what a story I speak looks like on the page. It would probably be radically different. I know that one time, when I knew in advance that I was going to be telling a certain (fictional) story out loud, I prepared by speaking it over and over again, instead of writing it down; I wanted it to be structured like a really good oral story, instead of a written one.
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Renegade Vagabond
User: khaybee
Date: 2007-03-29 02:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I myself stammer on a fairly regular basis, but I don't think many people notice it.

I have a lisp and I stutter. When I mention either of these facts in conversaton, 9 times out of 10 the person I'm speaking to will say, "No you don't".
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2007-03-29 02:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I myself stammer on a fairly regular basis

I do, too. Bothers the heck out of me. In front of a mic or the public, no, but in private conversation, there it is. I think it usually occurs when my mouth cannot keep up with my brain.

I might as well be working with two different brains

Hmmm...I sense a story therein.
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Jonathan Wood
User: thexmedic
Date: 2007-03-29 03:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When I'm reading, at least when I get deep into a book, I have very little sense for the individual words. I more get dream-like impresions. It's definitely more visual.

But when I write I definitely hear the words in my head as if they are being spoken aloud. I dictate stuff in my head before it goes down on the page. That helps me get a sense for the voice and tone of the narration and helps a lot with word choice. It's kind of like very private acting that then gets transcribed onto the page.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-03-29 03:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting datum here for you: this difference between the spoken word and the written word is greatest for the fluent writer. My guess is that the more fluent the writer, the greater the discrepancy is going to be.

One intervention I frequently resort to when trying to get a kid struggling to write for me is to have the kid dictate what he or she (usually he) wants to say. The quality of writing goes up miles when the kid dictates (after they get over the immediate reaction that I can almost keep up with what they're saying word for word...yes, I am a fast typist and can keep up with the dictation speed of most kids with a writing disability!).

Now some of that improvement is due to the informal writing workshop process I'll be doing with the student during the dictation ("Did you really want to use that word? Um, did you really mean to say it that way? Maybe we should organize it in this way, what do you think?"). But for the non-fluent writer, dictation often is the fastest means for them to express good writing concepts and knowledge that would not be reflected in what would come out if they were either typing the words themselves or handwriting it.
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mallory_blog: pic#47746478
User: mallory_blog
Date: 2007-03-29 04:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I actually transcribe a lot of taped book material (primarily for psychologists) and what is humorous to me is how that material shifts. When the person is alone they frequently get very formal and spew enormous amounts of drivel that is repetitious and cautious - put that person around someone they think is groovy and they get all gushy and new age (equally eww) and then my problem becomes encouraging massive amounts of trim plus revision of the pulp. The other problem is that there are always continuity problems when people 'talk' type their stuff.
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Wendy S. Delmater: your brain
User: safewrite
Date: 2007-03-29 09:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:your brain
For me, the language which flows out of my fingers is so distinct from the language which comes out of my mouth that I might as well be working with two different brains.

Me too. I read my ms to others as a final check - the verbal word only jumps out at me if it hits me through my ear. I'll have to try reading Twain aloud.
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User: frabjouslinz
Date: 2007-03-29 19:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"...the language which flows out of my fingers is so distinct from the language which comes out of my mouth that I might as well be working with two different brains."

I feel exactly the same way. I can dictate into the computer, but only if I write it longhand first.

It's funny, I was thinking about this just last night. Working as a transcriptionist for insurance companies, I hear spoken mistakes that people make grammar-wise a lot, along with the stutters and repetitions and unfinished thoughts. I was thinking that as writers we struggle for believable dialogue that sounds true, but not so true as to be painful to wade through, reading. The occasional stutter or mis-spoken word in fiction really needs to be necessary for the scene, and not just a by-product of bad speech habits. I was thinking that making bad speech habits a part of a character (i.e. "Catcher In the Rye") would be really difficult to pull off, and still get a good, readable story out of it.
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