Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Speech and writing are different

In my last post I indicated that I would do a mini-series on writing. I nominated the following as my topics:

* How are writing and speech different?
* Does context matter?
* Do we need to know our audiences?
* What do other media add to the message of the Word?
* What are the risks and possibilities of BLOGS, email, network communities (e.g. Facebook)?

One of our readers also suggested that I comment on the ephemeral nature of digital publications like BLOGS. I’ll probably cover that in my last suggestion.

So, how are writing and speech different? Someone suggested at the Faithfull Writer Conference that writing is simply “talking on paper”. But, writing is not the same as talking. In fact, one of the most important things that all writers need to learn is that writing is NOT talking. Yes, there are parallels between speech and writing, and together they make up language, but there are many differences. For example, writing doesn't include prosodic and paralanguage features such as intonation, rhythm, phrasing and pausing (although we try to approximate this by using devices like brackets etc). And in parallel, talking doesn't indicate the use of sentences and paragraphs. Secondly, speech and writing have different contexts for different purposes. So the meanings that we use in written contexts are not always easily translated into talk. Writing and talking end up being used for different purposes. Of course language changes and so do purposes for language forms. So what we once spoke (by phone or in person) might end up being written (in an email or BLOG), but more on this in a future post.

I could go on to discuss social variations (dialects) that occur that reflect the groups to which you belong as speakers and writers and the functional variations that reflect what is going on, who is taking part and the role that language is fulfilling.....but you're probably already bored. My point is this. If you want to be an effective Christian writer and communicator, you need to understand a few things about the differences between speech and writing. In each of these posts I’ll offer a key understanding for would-be Christian writers. Here’s the first.

# Key understanding 1 - Know the strengths and limitations of speech and writing and how these vary across these two language forms. And know, the contexts and functions for which each form of language is best suited. If you do understand this you won't read a long complex essay at an evangelistic event and call it an outreach talk. Neither will (or should) you use email to discuss a problem you're having with someone.


Sam Rae said...

Hi Trevor. Thanks for the interesting post. Are you planning to expand more on the limitations of speech and writing, and how they work in their different contexts? I think I'm aware of the basics—I'm not planning on asking someone to marry me by email, for instance—but it would be good to understand some more details.

A small note from the geek inside of me (some would argue all over me): the word "blog" is not capitalised. It is a short form of "weblog", meaning a log written on the web. So it's "blog", "blogs" and "bloggers"—no capitalisation required. :)

Wikipedia reference

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your response and comment. If Wikepedia says "blog" then I'm there! Blog it is - thanks.

Yes, I do hope to unpack some of the more interesting issues in the future posts and I hope you (and others) will keep responding.

Glad you won't propose by email but I'm sure someone has done it somewhere, and I know for sure that many relationships have been ended with SMS messages.