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Friday, May 20, 2011

If Writing Were Speech, We'd All Be Inarticulate

Just a thought. I can speak dozen of words a minute in more or less complete sentences. Even very fast writing is comparatively halting, hesitant, disfluent. Not because of the effort of writing or typing it, but because writing is something fundamentally different. Fast writers like Kerouac are actually better than the normal writer who can barely write anything with any coherence.

The other side of that is that we hold writing to a much higher standard, forgiving the disfluency of spontaneous speech. If we wrote as we spoke, then we would say, hey, why didn't he revise that? It looks like he just wrote down what he was thinking with no care put into the process.


Vance Maverick said...

"I have but nine-pence in ready money, but I can draw for a thousand pounds." (Addison, but Johnson capped it.)

Andrew Shields said...

Didn't Kerouac do a lot more revising than he claimed?


"forgiving the disfluency of spontaneous speech": this reminds me of Pullum's defense of GW Bush against the proliferation of "Bushisms". Pullum quoted a bit of spontaneous presidential speech (in response to a question at an event), commented on its disfluency, and then pointed out that he had just quoted Clinton.

Jonathan said...

I know. I hated Bush, God knows, but I am prone to speech error myself and I thought the moral superiority over the issue of language, with Bush, was just stupid.

And yes, I'm sure Kerouac revised. After all, Visions of Cody and On the Road contain much of the same material. Whole pages are the same with the names changed.

Andrew Shields said...

Obama has the habit of saying things like "this is very important to Michelle and I."

(Huddleston and Pullum have a wonderful discussion of that point -- without reference to Obama, of course -- in both the student grammar book and in the big monster CGEL.)