Speech and Writing. 

   Most peopleís immediate response about the differences between speech and writing is that writing is speech put down on paper, or that writing is more formal than speech. These views are, however, too simplistic.   If we think about the two modes without any electronic or computer mediation, we are likely to find certain characteristics. 

Speech, unless itís scripted, is an on-going process and will be: 

        Perceived through the ears


        Face to face (or at least within ear-shot)

        Ephemeral (i.e. gone as soon as itís spoken)

        Subject to hesitation, self-repair and on-going editing

        Not necessarily in complete major sentences

        In real time

        Able to respond immediately to listener feed-back

        Supported by prosodic, paralinguistic and non-verbal features

 Writing is an end product and will be:

         Perceived through the eyes

        Subject to editing before itís read

        Likely to be in complete sentences

        Able to be read at a distance

        A semi-permanent record

        Capable of being read and reread at any time after itís written

        Possibly for an unknown audience

        Unable to respond immediately to feedback

        Not easily able to show prosodic, paralinguistic or non-verbal features

    Both speech and writing can come anywhere on a spectrum ranging from formal to informal, although itís true that what we write is generally likely to be more formal than what we say. Writing is also more likely than speech to be in Standard English, and traditional orthography (i.e. ordinary spelling) cannot show regional accent: we are likely to read something using our own pronunciation.

 Scripted speech, whether it be a prepared talk or a play-script, loses the spontaneity associated with normal speech, and telephonic, recorded or broadcast speech is also different from what is described above. All these types of speech take on some of the characteristics of writing, and computer mediated communication (CMC), such as texting, e-mail and chat-rooms, causes writing to take on some of the characteristics of speech.

© CD Selwyn-Jones 2002