Sean and I have decided to read Pat Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind aloud to one another in the evenings. We read up through Chapter 6 last night. (So far so good.) Before beginning our reading, after looking over the map provided at the front of the tome, we promised not to ridicule the other for mispronunciations. While this should be a given when reading any Fantasy or Science Fiction book, I felt it should be stated aloud. Sean and I approach the sounding-out of a word differently. (Reading Tolkien aloud was an adventure.) Add Natalya to a mix and you have a third—her bilingual education telling–when in doubt revert to sounding it out in Spanish.

Growing up reading Old Testament passages from the Bible aloud, the best advice was to just commit to a pronunciation and maintain the rhythm of a fluid sentence. If the attempt was approached with confidence and a bit of self-deprecation, you could easily sound like yours is the correct pronunciation. And really, how many other knew how to say names and place properly, they were just relieved to get the easier verses/chapters during their turn. Given enough difficult passages or genealogies you learn to perfect this look of “are you questioning my authority on the matter.” Meanwhile, you wait for a visiting scholar to show up for a Sunday Morning Sermon or a Revival to try to prove your pronunciation wrong.

With Sci Fi or Fantasy you attend a Reading by the Author or pick up an audio-version or ask someone at random. And, no, I am not necessarily convinced by a film-version translation. Sean tells me that many Authors provide a glossary with a guide to pronouncing a name or place. In some novels, like Ellen Potter’s The Kneebone Boy she works it into the text, e.g. in this case Lucia is not Lucy-a but loo-CHEE-ah. Including places/names in poems/songs seem to help as well.*

Other than potential embarrassment, what is the big deal? Sean and I have been married almost 8 years, have known each other longer, if the awkward mispronunciation of a name in a fictional novel is the most embarrassing thing we’ve witnessed or perpetrated then something has gone terribly wrong. The big deal for me is: a mispronunciation may be the difference between an awkward sentence and an elegant one–especially when reading aloud. I love the rhythmic capture of language in print’s return to auditory. Relaying a dialect in dialogue or personality in a narrator; Creating a lull, an eroticism, a darkness, suspense, a transition, pace…**  A loss of single syllable or sibilant flags my consciousness; which at times, yes, the jostling is intentional.

I suppose the rule should be: If it doesn’t appear important to the author (via absence of guides) look for the auditory pleasures elsewhere and maybe keep the voices confined to your own brain pan; and/or further develop that look of “are you questioning my authority on the matter.”…if it sounds good to you it’s gold?

What do you think?


*Do you read a song/poem aloud when reading alone (or in public) to yourself? It can make the difference between a fail and awe. While reading in the mind, it may seem nice, or even impressive—I am ever impressed with writers who include songs and poems (minus haikus)—but when read aloud you wonder if it was read aloud at conception, or if an accent is necessary…or if you need to brush up on your scanning.

**I am aware that other factors feed into a sentence’s auditory success, e.g. punctuation.

Note: Stumbling over words does not detract from a read to the same degree the fluid, if not lyrical, gives me pleasure. Nevertheless, sound is an interest, and thus a preoccupation–for me.

If you Write:  How important is the reading aloud of your work during the writing/revision process?


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    So cool to meet another couple that reads aloud to each other. I love reading books to my wife. Pronunciation is an issue. When I read LOTR (to myself…though I have read parts of it and The Silmarillion aloud to my wife and daughter) I had the combination of the films and Tolkien’s pronunciation guide to at least help me practice. But when I read other books I generally find something that works in my head that I might stumble over the first few times when reading it aloud. I also find it a bit frustrating when reading aloud and coming across a passage written in say, French or Latin and have no idea how to read it. I’ve taken Spanish and can mostly pronounce those words fluidly regardless of my knowledge of what the words mean. But I am a mess with other languages. I ran into this when reading Among Others aloud to Mary recently. There were phrases I just butchered as I stumbled over them, which definitely takes away from the impact of said passage.

    I was attending a reading by George RR Martin last year and he mentioned that in a few of the audio versions the reader pronounces names differently than the way he pronounces them. He didn’t appear bothered by this, but I think I would be miffed if it was me. Then again maybe he didn’t provide, or wasn’t asked to provide, a pronunciation guide.

    A good example of pronunciation issues is dear Flavia, who we have been talking about recently. I may be wrong, but I thought my wife said that on the audio it is pronounced Flay vee ah. I myself have always read it as Flaah vee ah, the ahh being like the sound in Father. The last name is that way too. I’ve always read it as day Lou Chay rather than day loose. I’m sure I’m wrong on both counts but that is the way I heard it in my head the first time I read the book.

    As for reading aloud to myself, I do read poems aloud to myself often because I seem to get more out of them that way. I will occasionally read the Bible aloud to myself as well. Fiction, not so much.

    1. L says:

      I read Flavia de Luce as Flaah vee ah, Deh Loose.

      Encountering an unfamiliar foreign language in a poem causes me stress. I love Elliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ but reading it aloud is tricky. We read it in a small group once where we agreed that whoever was familiar with each of the languages would take those parts. It was great. The Panther by Rilke is a wonderful auditory experience in its original German, though the translation isn’t bad…I’m thinking translations are worthy of another post.

  2. ibeeeg says:

    This is a great book, and I think it is a fabulous thing that you will be able to speak about the story with one another right away,and as things happen. I hear you about pronunciations though. I find myself tripping over my tongue many times when reading aloud to the family. Especially when I was reading the book Titus which was written in the 1800s with a lot of “Thee” type wordings thrown in, and based in the times of Jesus. For that read, it was not the words so much that troubled me but the order of the words. It really went against my own personal word order flow of speaking. When reading to myself, these things are not an issue.

    Last Wednesday I had the immense pleasure of meeting Patrick Rothfuss. I will write a post about this experience…oh my, if you were to meet one author he would be the one I would suggest meeting…well, there are a few more but Rothfuss is one you should not miss if opportunity arises. Anyway, he spoke about langauge and its nuances. I wish I had a recorder or something because I don’t remember exact wording. Suffice it to say, he did not come up with his own language such as Tolkien, but he did invest time into words, and their pronunciations. He spoke about how an audio book is created and he spent numerous hours over the phone going over many words that are used thorughout the book that are not common. He would say said word over and over again – many times – this way the narrator could hear how he would prounounce the word. He also gave direction as to what he would perceive the accents to be for several of the characters with Russian being one of them. Now, the character is not Russian, but Russian is the closest *known* langauge to us that would give reference to the narrator for the accent. Am I making sense? One of the things that impressed about Rothfuss is his command of language, and nuances. Not only in how he writes but also in his speaking. Hopefully that has given you a bit of insight to his work.

    As far as reading aloud books such as this, I tend to pick one way to say a word and stick to it without worry if I am correct. I figure, if I am incorrect then maybe one day I will become enlightened but until then we can enjoy the story with some sort of speaking consistency from me, and for me, the consistency is what gives the flow of the sentence and thoughts. Although, I am always thrilled to hear a word pronounced when I had no clue prior. This I am finding to be true with The Wheel of Time books that I am reading.

    I write, and so do you…me, only on my posts, and other personal things. I do read aloud my writing, many times, but not with every thing I write. I usually catch my wacky word order sense of writing and speaking when I read my writings aloud. I tend to put words in different order than usually is done. Do you read aloud your writing?

    One other thing, I am going to admit, pronunciation guides help me little. I have a rough time with them. I really need to hear the word, and when this is done while looking at such guide then bonus for me.

    Oh, talk about potential embarrassment, my children will poke fun of me when I stumble upon a word. I take it in stride and usually then also shove said book into the face of the 15 year old who usually takes great pleasure in my reading stumbles and request her to read the word. Many times she does far better, but also is known to stumble right along with me. 🙂

    If you could not tell by my enormous reply, I loved reading this post. Actually, I read it at work and wanted desperately to reply then but I cannot access wordpress there so I had to wait until now…being home.

    1. L says:

      was this comment any longer than the one I left at your blog the other day? 🙂

      thanks for relaying Rothfuss on language and pronunciation! In chapter 7 (which we read last night) he works the pronunciation of Kvothe into the text. May pick up the audio book if we ever get really hung up on a word/name or song.

      I will read my work aloud; though rarely my blog posts unless it is a sentence I am trying to rescue from awkwardness and/or am trying out a potentially better word choice. It is the easiest way of catching mistakes. Also, I really respond to the rhythm and the evocation of emotion words and sounds create. Then there is the movements of the mouth, the breathing, these feed into the impact of the experience as well.

      We tend to practice good humor in our family read-alouds, sometimes the moments of all-out error create several minutes of laughter and good memories. Still, yesterday evening Natalya and I started reading Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Search for Wondla (a sci-fi/fantasy). We had to agree on a pronunciation right away…I mean, how do you pronounce Eva? N automatically went to EH-vuh. I say EE-vuh. But I’ve a friend A-vuh. Not terribly straightforward, and I suppose one can’t anticipate everything. And actually, in this case, it doesn’t seem to matter–yet.

      1. ibeeeg says:

        Interesting that you ask about the pronunciation of Eva. We have an Eva and we pronounce it like you do EE-vuh. Others whose first language is not English tend to pronounce it A-vuh. We also call her Evie and most people say EH-vee whereas we say EE-vee. 🙂

        This is a very interesting post as well as the comments.

  3. What a great post. I actually read The Name of the Wind aloud to my wife, and Rothfuss’s fluid language is perfect for this type of experience. With words I’m uncertain how to pronounce I simply make my best guess and continue on, knowing in my mind what I mean.

    But you’re absolutely right. “A mispronunciation may be the difference between an awkward sentence and an elegant one–especially when reading aloud.” Stumbling over words or mispronouncing throws off the tone created by the words (just like yawning), and I hate it that I may be taking some of the magic away. Yet, aloud also adds subtle perks to the experience, especially with verse (provided the meter works right), that you just don’t get reading silently.

    Personally, I tend to do both. I usually write without reading aloud, but then some things only come to life by reading aloud, like with consonance or alliteration techniques, and rhyme!

    Bible-wise, I tend to do both as well. Scripture aloud sounds wonderful (I use the ESV translation) and helps with memory, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get as much from verbalizing words. And that is the ultimate problem I question when reading aloud. Sometimes I don’t comprehend as much if I’m reading aloud (or being read to), and on important things (like school work or something) I always preferred to read myself.

    1. L says:

      I, too, tend to comprehend better (at least quicker) when reading to myself, the visual coupled with my own audio.

      My first drafting, just writing, is always in silence. then a re-read may have me mumbling to myself aloud at parts. The family has learned to disregard my randomness (that or I can’t hear their snickering, which is more likely).

      we have always done the read-aloud as a family or between one of us parents and Natalya. this is the first occasion Sean and I have read a book aloud to each other together. we’ve always shared a bit of what we are currently reading. anyway, the book came in from the library, the hard copy, and I was like, “Logan and his wife read aloud together and it seems to be a really positive experience for them.” Sean was game and it has been very positive for us too…so far 🙂

      1. Plus, it’s just fun to read something that cracks you up (from time to time) and you share a good, hearty laugh with your spouse. Enjoy the read!

  4. Randy says:

    Completely agree that confidence and keeping the rhythm of the sentence makes all the difference. That’s what I do when I read Bible passages aloud while teaching or preaching.

    I was five when my parents moved to Central America and was in high school by the time we moved back so in some ways Spanish was more my first language than English. This really was a benefit in my undergrad Greek classes. The teacher would always make note that we didn’t really know how to pronounce the Greek words being a dead language and all but he would always call on me to read out loud in class because he enjoyed the Spanish accent.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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