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?