09 December 2011


I wrote the following in response to a colleague hearing my voice in my written words

I enjoy the harmonies and dissonances of the relationship between what is spoken and what is written. I buy dictionaries, and have many in my library. However, unlike most people, I am rarely perturbed by poor spelling. I enjoy the multitude of spellings to produce the same sound (to, too, two, tu), and the multitude of sounds permitted from the same spelling (tough, cough, dough, plough). I enjoy the subtleties (as well as its near anagram: subtitles) of nuance between practice and practise (spelt differently but pronounced the same), advice and advise (spelt and pronounced differently), alternate [to take turns] and alternate [a substitute] (spelt the same but pronounced differently). I love fora, formulae, concerti, tableaux and majors general. I love ‘erb tea, bayzle, oreggano, rowt and vayze. I have a strong preference for Munchen, Nurnberg and Koln; for Addawa (Ottawa), DC (Washington DC) and Manhattan (New York City), because these are the names used by the people who live and work in those cities..

In my experience, what is said is often easier to understand if it falls into the natural cadences of spoken English. Of course, William Shakespeare recognised this with his iambic pentameters. In my experience, what is written may also be easier to understand if it falls into the natural cadences of spoken English. What I write is often crafted to sound like how I speak. Perhaps almost equally, what I say is often sufficiently well considered that it sounds like what I would write.

However, I am aware that many people typically speak in stumbling, incomplete and sometimes only semi-coherent clauses. This is given the illusion of a single train of thought or narrative by face-to-face engagement, in much the same way that film creates from a sequence of photographs the illusion of continuous movement. Therefore, to be comprehensible, there must also be formality in what is written.

For this purpose, I sometimes use formulae. For example, in recognising that the Canadian postal coding system [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postal_codes_in_Canada ] (for example, K1A 0B1) is less prone to transcription errors compared to that used in the UK (for example, DH1 2PZ; W1A 4WW) because the six characters alternate sequentially between letters and numbers, I present times/dates not as spoken but in a consistent formula: 12:34 Friday 12 February 1554. (However, in dating computer files I use the Japanese system: 15540212.)

Surprisingly, perhaps, I welcome the use of clich├ęs in speech when their purpose is to aid intelligibility:  allowing quick links to what is already known and understood, but also listen for their use as a substitute for thought and opinion (sales patter).

My ‘natural’ way of speaking is elaborated code that incorporates my classical and scientific formal education, my experience of travel throughout Europe and North America as well as to Japan, and my familiarity with many cultures through my love of literature and movies. When I feel refreshed I am usually able to speak from the restricted code of the person with whom I am interacting. However, when I am tired I revert to speaking from within my comfort zone involving words of many syllables and that may be unfamiliar to many of the people with whom I work; a consequence of which is that I inadvertently distance people.

I have loved word play from my earliest years, and enjoy subtle puns. Careful attention to nuanced and multiple meanings is also the domain of poetry, where apposition is currency. Of course, for the Mersey poets (Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Penguin-Modern-Poets-Mersey-McGough/dp/0140421033/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323435629&sr=8-1) poetry involved play.  Although I have written poetry with which I am satisfied, it has rarely arrived by FedEx or DHL, but by scooping ripped-up photographs from beneath Parisian photo booths. Sadly, my tendency towards obsession with minutiae does not serve me well regarding style. Attention to style is required to write extended prose that is worth reading (Dickens, Hardy). Instead, I am left fretting about the inappropriateness of a full stop in a heading, the mosquito bite of a supermarket queue’s limitation to nine items or less, and my Lynne Truss-like frustration with incorrectly-sited apostrophe’s (sic).

I wonder whether the voice audible in the above is that with which people who know me are familiar [implied question mark].

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