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Saturday, March 20, 2010

l'ecrit contre le mot parle

My friend and colleague who teaches high school philosophy in my school shared to me that one of their lessons is the difference between the written and the spoken word. Somehow, I found it interesting to write about since I am just idly sitting in front of the computer thinking of what to write. Hmmm, a brain exercise.

It takes two to communicate. There is the giver and the receiver of the message. How they come in agreement as to what the message is is practically dependent on the ability of both to play the roles they have in this kind of endeavor. While there can be many receivers to listen to a message, it would be chaotic to have more than one delivering it at the same time. Just the same, these receivers will sometimes have different understanding of the message they have just heard. So, basically, communication can be a very hard, it can even get frustrating at times.

Many will argue that in order to communicate well, one should know the right grammar, correct subject-verb agreement, tenses, etc. and going even further, syntax and semantics of a certain language. Again, this is dependent on the ability of the giver to make his message come across with nary a problem. But is this all there is to it? While it is true that these are very important, one can still communicate even with very minimal knowledge of a language. I think tourists in any land can manage to be understood, albeit with extreme difficulty, to get his/her message across using signs and symbols, and still get what he/she wants in the end if confined only to the very basic. When we went to Korea, most of the people we met did not speak English. So too were the store signs. But we managed to get by especially with a little help from the guide who even taught us how to haggle. The day we were to go home, the itinerary was to go to a famous theme park but knowing that I will have to spend more than I can afford (again), I opted to stay in the hotel. Come lunch time, I went out to look for a restaurant. I was shocked that none of the menus was written down in English. So what was there left? I pointed! I saw someone eating and pointed to her food, showed her money to ask how much and we understood each other. Whether I was taken for a sucker and paid more than I should have is totally a different story of course. But nevertheless, I was able to buy me some food.

The complexity of communication does not end there. There is the difference between the spoken and the written word. Which do you think is more effective in getting your message across? Is it the written text or the spoken word? Which would you prefer? I say it will depend on two things. Again, the ability of the participants and the message itself.

The written word is more permanent. One can store the paper on which the message is written and have it re-read numerous times until one has memorized its contents. This is the reason why when we deal with legal issues, we have to have them written down. This is called evidence. It will be very hard to deny what you have written down. The good thing about the written is that you have the time to edit and revise the piece before you send it out. In so doing, you have a well thought out piece (supposedly) which you have crafted to perfection at least from the point of the giver of the information. But more often, the receiver would want to react, clarify or make a comment. This makes the written word basically a one way communication until a response has been received.

The spoken word is a fleeting exercise and passes very quickly. This gives the speaker a chance to deny and swear by the grave of his/her great great great grandparents what he she has just uttered. Of course we have the tape recorder but sometimes, they can be inaudible. But then again, this can also when a piece of writing is done in a manner that can hardly be read. My handwriting is a classic example. When I learned how to use the computer, it seems like I have thrown my handwriting down the drain. I can hardly read my own handwriting.

The problem with the written word is that it does not contain life. It does not bear intonations, speech patterns of the speaker and the facial expressions that go with it. These are very important aspects of communication for they also convey meaning. A single word that would look benign on paper would have a different meaning with the tone by which it has been uttered. Of course, writing has developed exclamation points and question marks but then again, these are very limited.



Anonymous bertN said...

A late Aunt used to tell us to be careful with what we say because we cannot take it back. When you verbally hurt someone, you can apologize and maybe,forgiven, but the hurt lingers on.

10:01 PM  
Blogger cbs said...

great post, as always. i remember two things while reading this...one was from an essay by ashcroft where he discussed the clue to understanding the written word - 1st is that the writer must know at a very conscious level the presence of the audience in the actual act of writing, and 2nd, that the reader must be conscious of the intention of the writer through the text being read...

and then the second is an essay interview with roberto bolano entitled "literature is not made from words alone", where he discussed great literature like don quixote, saying that even if you read a bad translation of this work, or if it were missing a number of pages, or it was mutilated, you will still acknowledge it as great literature.

3:48 AM  
Blogger rolly said...

bertN I have learned this a long time ago. And yes, I have done a lot of things I cannot be proud about but hey, it's been done. The only thing that matters is that I learned.

cbs Once again, you have given me more materials to read. Thanks for sharing these.

7:11 PM  

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Jack of all trade, master of none. First a disclaimer. My students have discovered this blog and they might think that what I write is gospel truth. Worse is they might find an argument that they think they can use, for some reason or another, against their teachers. So, to set the record straight, it is NOT. As a matter of fact, I write and open it to feedback to get another view in the hope that somebody would tell me if I am wrong and reenforce my thinking if it is right. Not that I will accept anything thrown my way, though. Just so I can think about it some more and decide whether my original stance is right or definitely off tangent. So there. I hope that clarifies everything. Now, on to blogging.

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