Writing Sounds

An odd sound for a violinWhen we write, the words on the page—whether that page is made of paper or pixels—exist in the realm of vision, but that isn't where they do their most important work. To plagiarize a couple lines from an earlier monologue, although the process of writing seems more visual than auditory, every word makes noise. Whether it's within the reader's mind or in a more tangible way—converted to sound waves in the air—the final result always has an echo of its own. Two echoes, in fact: the first in the mind of the writer, and the second when the word is read by someone else.

Words make noise, but the sound isn't necessarily the same for every reader. It's affected by regional dialect and inflection, and for those whose first language didn't happen to be English, perhaps the lingering accent of the native tongue. And then there's the mispronunciation of words, which may occur for a variety of reasons. But regardless of the underlying cause, the familiar sound of your own written words may be lost in the translation when they're processed in the mind of another. This isn't a problem when the primary goal is the communication of facts or ideas. Your carefully metered prose, on the other hand, where the musical flow of sounds is at least as important as the image invoked by specific words, may not survive.

The universal language of music relies on the fact that a violin still sounds like a violin, no matter who's listening to it. Unfortunately, the musical ear responsible for the delightful tone poem or lyrical turn of phrase can't anticipate the conversion of words as sound. If someone doesn't like the sound of your violin, it's possible he's hearing castanets, instead.


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