Sunday, March 2, 2014

Written vs. Spoken Language

Man. If this discussion isn't every English teacher's mantra, then I don't know what is. Each day we stand before the minds of tomorrow and stress the importance of written and spoken language. There's an art to choosing words and phrases correctly so that one may reach the chosen audience appropriately. Sometimes, even the best of us struggle to make the right choices, and in a world where the spoken word is falling through the cracks, it's vital that we begin paying more attention to what we "say" in the written form.

Anyone who knows me knows that I sometimes struggle to convey the appropriate tone in the spoken sense. The delivery is a bit off, but being there with the audience, I have the opportunity to revamp and explain myself. In addition, how I really feel is written all over my face, so when the tone and the facial expression don't match, my viewers notice. Know me well enough, and you know I always mean well. On "paper," explaining yourself is just not in the cards; word choice is vital, and even then, sometimes the best wording can't solidify tone, often resulting in a misinterpretation at no fault of the audience. Yeesh. So frustrating.

Tone = Attitude
Too bad tone is relative in written language. Unless it's super obvious, based on genre or circumstance, that someone is trying to be funny, depressing, scathing, etc., sometimes it's impossible to interpret tone in an email or text message. With a million synonyms, some sentences just can't be made to "sound" a certain way. If word choice were as simple as replacing 'wrong' with 'incorrect,' then the world would be filled with puppies and rainbows, but not all synonyms are that obviously different in tone and I've yet to poop any puppies or rainbows.

Mood = Feeling
Tone sets the mood, so when you have a diction blunder, it's safe to say the mood of the conversation will avalanche into negativity. The worst part -- trying to dig yourself out of a text message hole is like trying to walk in quicksand. It's frustrating, especially when you realize you've not conveyed yourself correctly, and it's even worse when everything you "say" is just as emotionless as the original problem.

The Unique Qualities of Spoken Language
Ears will ignore things that eyes just can't allow. It's so true. In conversation, mechanics essentially go out the window. We tend to pause naturally where appropriate, and, like breathing, we don't think about it. Combined sentences flow freely from our mouths where on paper we'd have to make decisions about commas and conjunctions or consider rules about semi colons to combine thoughts.

One thing vital to spoken language is inflection, but most of us don't struggle so much with emotion in our voices. Poor souls who speak in the monotone or who overuse the verbal exclamation point are fewer and further between than "normal" talkers. It's actually not uncommon for great public speakers to be terrible writers: spelling doesn't matter in speaking; however, put that on paper, and BAM!...gotta get out a dictionary (or use a computer with spell check and avoid misspelling words so badly that you create new words). Smooth talkers with poor writing abilities aren't so smooth if they can't hook an audience with gun fingers and a wink.

I could ramble on for hours about this topic. Every day I remind the AP students that what they say on paper has to speak for itself because they won't be sitting there to explain what they meant if a reader gets confused. I say that, but I also know that it's not always easy to get things arranged in the written form. We're all guilty, especially me. The best solution is to save all important conversations for the face-to-face, but when it's not possible, choose your words carefully...or at least hope that the recipient knows you well enough to interpret appropriately your intent.

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