People who’ve been reading this blog for a while may have noticed my style changes from colloquial to formal, depending on the topic at hand. If I’m attempting humor, my sentences may include a few contractions and shorten.
When tackling a book review, not only do I sometimes sprinkle the text with literary terms, but I may write longer sentences to draw a connection between two or more ideas. Nothing’s unusual in that. Mark Twain was a literate man, but don’t expect Huck Finn to speak the Queen’s English.
The news hour the other night contained a short piece about computer software that allows a person to dictate rather than type text. I was surprised because I’ve a friend who keeps up with software and he gave me a demonstration of one such program years ago. In fact, he was so happy with it, he let his secretary go. At the time, I wasn’t impressed enough to rush out and buy the software for myself. On a keyboard, I can erase a command with the delete button. Dictation requires me to provide detailed instruction: “Eliminate the words, ‘you blithering idiot’ and replace them with ‘Dear IRS Auditor’.”
An article by Clive Thompson confirms even with the new software, the inconvenience that attends dictation remains. It’s best, he advises, for you to “… map out each sentence in your head before clacking away.” (“Speak and Spell, by Clive Thompson, Wired, August 2015, pg. 42.) Needing to plot out a sentence before hand is likely to change the manner in which we write. A study in 2003 analyzed the writing styles of two academics. It showed when one of them shifted to a voice-writing program, his sentences grew shorter. The assumption is that people are more personal and colloquial while speaking. Unfortunately, Henry James provided a contradictory example. When he abandoned his typewriter in favor of a secretary, his sentences became longer and more ornate. (Ibid pg. 42.)
Whatever its effect on our use of language, voice-writing is on the rise. Nuance, a leading company in transcriptions services, has already reported a 48% increase in those who use dictation software and confirms the program is 95 percent accurate. (Ibid pg. 42.) No confusion between “smell” and “smile,” for example.
Writer Hermann Hesse once wrote, “Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” Most writers know this is true and I, like others, read my manuscripts aloud to check for clarity and fluidity. The inner voice of the reader must be considered, after all. But that refinement comes near the end of my writing, not at the beginning. First, I must keep up with my thoughts, But that fact may actually be a point in favor of voice writing. I can think faster than I can type.
Of course, opening the floodgates to dictated words can lead to bloviation. Would I find myself drowning in redundancy and ornate description the way Donna Tartt does in, The Goldfinch?
Change is difficult. Excuse is delay’s tactic. Nonetheless, I know resistance is futile. Eventually, technology will either entice or roll over me.