Monday, 11 April 2016

Who are the Voices in our heads when Reading?

It would appear now that after my hiatus, brought about by unfavourable circumstance, I can now write again here without fear of sinister consequence. I shall not attempt to explain how it came to be that I needed to lay low for a while, but suffice to say that life is very different now to what it was a year ago. My marriage, my home and much of the trappings of middle-class respectability have vanished. It is indeed a new and often uncomfortable chapter in my life with some resultant and happy consolations.

I have missed writing. It is good exercise for the mind and I confess that without it I have felt lesser. Whether it is true or a matter of internal perspective, I felt less articulate and, well, frankly less effective in my communication. It is also interesting to note that to some extent the medium makes the message. Perhaps this is not to be underestimated.
I was with some people at the weekend, for a lovely if rather drunken celebration and they mostly had what would be deemed "Received Pronunciation" English accents. I do not, hailing as I do from an extremely working-class Bristolian family. My accent might be likened, in fact, to that of the animate scarecrow Worzel Gummidge. We discussed quite briefly the drawbacks and advantages of our respective accents; How they dispose people toward us and how they subsequently respond. I feel, personally, in conclusion that I suffer from more of the former consequences than they do. But to dwell on this is not my point here: To hear me speak, you would think me one type of person or one level of intelligence (perhaps) whilst to read my words you would almost certainly believe me to be something altogether different. My West-country burr might imply a number of character traits and tendencies, for instance a liking for cider (which I confess to), a certain slothfulness (arguably correct) and a lower than average intelligence (which I suspect is unlikely to be the case but certainly must remain a possibility to be entertained). Perhaps you might think I own a tractor or have an affinity with cows. Certainly such perceptions must be the result of innate unconscious biases in our individual interpretations of the communication we hear. My written words have no accent.

But putting aside the prejudices of a listener or reader, it does lead to the interesting question of whether we are "different people" in our different modes of expression. Interestingly, research on bilingual people has shown that using each of their different languages to express a set of opinions or thoughts tends to cause them to actually have differences in those opinions or thoughts. The implications of this are that the thoughts themselves are subject to the constraints and influences of the structures of that language. Our language shapes our thoughts. No surprise there then, except the part about the bilingualism.

So, perhaps then the different voices we use when speaking or writing influences the content of mood of our expression too. Perhaps writing in a "voice" different from that of our usual communication medium allows us to be a character different from our usual selves. Maybe my abstention from writing in this manner has caused me to be the other (the actual? Who is to say what this is?) version of me. And indeed, I suddenly find myself to be altered noticeably from who I was when I was talking to colleagues a few hours ago (and oddly perplexed to find this persona actually significantly more comfortable to adopt.)

So, I do wonder how you feel about this? There are many reasons to write here; Seemingly an exercise (generally) without profit but taking some level of concerted effort. For those of you who write, do you feel yourselves shifted into another person for the duration of your writing and for perhaps some period of time afterwards?  Or do you write how you speak, immediately recognisably you?

Incidentally, as an aside, though possibly this is an associated phenomenon, I often wondered in which voice the words we read appear in our heads. If you listen, it is somehow sub-vocal, as in not actually an embodied vocal entity. But intriguingly, reading various poems which should rhyme but which in some dialects do not, it can be shown that the voices in our heads when we read are, if not our own, then at least in the accent of our daily speech. Isn't that fascinating?

Anyway, here I am back, and seemingly, at least from my inner perspective, the better for it.

1 comment:

Librarian said...

Welcome back! It was a pleasant surprise to see your blog appear on my dashboard again.

As you know, English is not my native language, and the accent I speak with is more Yorkshire than anything else, I suppose (blame my husband) - at least that is what people tell me.
Apparently, my voice changes between German, English and Italian (French I don't speak often enough to say much about it). Some years ago, I rang an acquaintance to wish her a happy birthday. Until then, she only ever had heard me speak English (we met at an "English Round Table", a XING group in my home town). When she heard me speak German for the first time, she did not recognize me immediately and said that I sounded like a different person.
While I don't think I AM a different person when I switch between languages, I do know that assuming different roles - at work, at home, with friends, with family, with my partner - makes me speak and act a little different each time. Not much, not a dramatic change in character or personality, but enough for me to note it, and use it.

When I read, I usually do "hear" it in my mind rather clearly. Reading English more often than German, I guess that voice in my mind sounds a bit Yorkshire-ish. Reading German depends much more on the subject. For instance, the science book I am reading right now has the voice of a 1940s scientist who emigrated from Nazi Germany to the US. He has a slightly rolling "r", the way radio speakers and actors of that time were taught to use in German.