Saturday, July 28, 2007

The rythm of writing

I sometimes find something lacking in the written word.
When i write there's a certain rhythm to the writing, i sort of expect the text to be read at a certain pace and intonation. all of this is lost in the written word and i always wonder how would this text 'sound' to someone else? can my particular way of expression cross over through the text?
I assume that people who know me and are aware of my style of conversation might be able to more accurately reproduce my rhythm from the text. but then again, i am not sure i can do this when i read their writings.

When i was in high school we where learning a Hebrew poem by Leah Goldberg called 'mi shirei ha ben haoved' (From the songs of the lost son. loosely translated) . Our teacher was reading the poem in a kind of empty voice, she was reading the words and sentences but she was ignoring the rhythm and intonation that to me where screaming from the page. it was just so obviously there. and the poet was obviously using it - the poem was build from three separate 'sub poems' and each had it own rhythm. eventually, when my teacher reached the last of the sub poems , which was the most obviously structured and had the most meaningful rhythm to it i couldn't take it any more. i stopped her reading and i asked why wasn't she reading the poem the way it was meant to be read? why was she leaving out the rhythm and intonation? she didn't understand what i was talking about and asked me to read it. there was a deep silence when i finished.

In a Hebrew bible you can find markings that details the precise way of expression for a word and a sentence. the precise tone , rise fall, rhythm and pace are described by numerous markings decorating the regular alphabet characters. certainly these symbols are not required in order to read the text and understand it and while i can read the bible , i do not know the meaning of all the different symbols that decorate it. the reason these markings are there is that the people who wrote the bible aspire to preserve not only the words but also the accurate 'sound' of reading the bible. there where no means of recording at the time, and since people wanted to preserve everything very accurately , they constructed a very elaborate and accurate method of conveying both the words and their pronunciation , rhythm, everything they could think of. add to that constant repetition and very strict methods of transferring the accurate knowledge of reading both the words and their decorations , and you get something very close to a recoding from two thousand years ago.

it would have been nice to have this sort of decoration, that way i could know exactly how my words would 'sound' to a reader. but maybe leaving the 'sound' to the reader provides some of what is called the 'power of the written word'. perhaps when you read the text to yourself, with your own internal voice , the words become more personal, more persuasive. maybe a bit more like your own thoughts than like someone else's writings.


Dan said...

...and just imagine how much easier it would be to automatically analyze written text, if all prosody were written along the text...

But yes, written language will forever be incomplete. I'd say that's one of the weakest points of linguistics - our object of research is partial, and if we want to work on spoken texts, we must deal with the fact that prosody is continuous, and therefore we have to "Quantize" the prosody to some system which is definitely incomplete. Not that anyone does that anyway.

Yossi Naar said...

you know, there's another thing - its very prominent in hebrew, but i think it's present in english to some extent. people don't really talk the way they write. the written hebrew is incredibly far from the spoken one. so much so that i believe the quality of scripts in israli movies and tv shows is so terrible because the text of the script can read grate , but when spoken it sounds unrealistic and fake.