Monday, May 24, 2010

HowJSay.com: Say It Right

HowJSay.com is a website you may find useful when you're preparing to read your work aloud to your critique partners. If your reading/writing vocabulary is larger than your speaking vocabulary, or you're not absolutely certain how to pronounce a word, you can check it at HowJSay.

Just type in the word, and a cultivated British voice will say it properly. It can be entertaining to note the differences between American English and British English. Try "issue," for example.

You may also discover that you've been pronouncing some words incorrectly your whole life. In reading, I've always pronounced "draught" to rhyme with "taut." But it's correctly pronounced like "draft."

Another one that surprised me is "soughing," as in "making a moaning or sighing sound," like the wind sighing through the trees. I thought it was pronounced like "sighing," but it's actually "sowing." So I guess I'll use "sighing" instead of the more exotic "soughing," since I don't want readers to think the wind is giving birth to a litter of piglets.

I come from a family of strong, silent types. Reading and writing have always been my primary means of communication. They seem more natural to me than talking. Which could explain why my reading/writing vocab is somewhat larger than my speaking vocab.

Being intensely concerned with rhythm in language, I need to know the correct pronunciation to be sure of getting the correct number of "beats" in a sentence. I'm talking prose here, not poetry.

As Ursula K. Le Guin says in her writing text, Steering the Craft: "The sound of language is where it all begins and what it all comes back to. The basic elements of language are physical; the noise words make and the rhythm of their relationships. This is just as true of written prose as of poetry."

I was delighted recently to receive a critique from a literary agent who said I "seem to have an innate sense of rhythm, as well as a solid sense of when to employ intentional repetition and when to avoid it." I try!

Bookmark HowJSay.com and check those words you're not quite sure of. It's worth the effort. (And it'll keep you from stumbling over your own writing the next time you read to your critique group.)

1 comment:

  1. "If your reading/writing vocabulary is larger than your speaking vocabulary..."

    Wow! I've never been able to describe the issue properly; but you described it well. (ha ha - I'm going to remember that one!)

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