Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Spoken Punctuation

"We don't need punctuation when we speak, so why do we need punctuation when we write?"

This is what someone asked me the other day. Actually, we do have punctuation when we speak - in a way.

The basic unit of spoken punctuation is the pause. Where we would insert a comma in written English, we insert a tiny pause when we speak:

   When I reached home, I made a cup of tea.

Where, in written English, we would add a full stop, we add a slightly longer pause when speaking.

In a formal situation, such as a speech or presentation, we add an even longer pause as a 'paragraph break' or to signify the beginning of a new point.

Interestingly, there is not a good way to signify inverted commas in spoken English, which has given rise to the air quote:

Another interesting crossover from written to spoken punctuation is when people say 'period' out loud to punctuate a particularly strong point, one which is the last word on the matter.

   I don't care what she said to you. It's wrong to hit girls, period!

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