AND WRITING AS METAPHORS FOR LANGUAGE AND ART
I. There is only a language. Speech and writing are not two kinds of language
but two mainfestations of it in the course of language use. Speech enjoys a certain priority over its written
record in relation to the life history of person, a community, or
mankind. At the same time,
there is a certain broad functional symmetry between speech and writing
– either can do duty for the other, if primary proficiency is supplemented
by secondary proficiency.
do many people tend to see something deeper in this distinction? For them speech typifies language use viewed
as an act or gesture, while writing typifies language use viewed as
an object or text. Gestures
are responded to, but texts are interpreted.
In sum, speech and writing serve as metaphors for the alternate
conceptions of language use. Acts can be either work or play. Objects can be either productions or creations.
III. Not only
literary works that fuse the vehicle of language material and the
content of experience but also other kinds of art works can be seen
either as autonomous acts of speech or as transitive written texts. The various kinds of art may be reviewed from
this angle the arts of language, the arts of design and of spectacle,
the arts for display, the arts of performance, and finally the art
SPEECH AND WRITING
FOR LANGUAGE AND ART
Ashok R. KELKAR, P u n
It is best to begin by finding out what speech and
writing really are in relation to language and to each other and only
then consider them as metaphors for language use and for works of
is the relationship between language, speech, and writing?
misleading to speak as if there are two kinds of language—spoken language
and written language. Rather,
there is only spoken language use and written language use.
Language has two kinds of manifestation, speech and writing,
in the course of its use in communication.
is a system of national forms that embody man’s understanding of the
world as shaped in the course of man’s shared life in a community. Language is also a system of speech manifestation
that speakers and listeners make use of and a system of written manifestation
that written and readers make use of.
It is misleading
to speak as if speech and writing are on a par, being simply two alternate
and parallel modes of manifesting the system of national forms. Speech is for more nature-made than writing
is. Every child that is not
deaf-mute than writing is. Every
child that is not deaf-mute or feeble-minded or deprived of exposure
to speech acquires a near-adult control of speech by the age of five
or so without anybody having to take the trouble of teaching it to
speak. Literacy on the other
hand is not only a pair of skills, reading and writing, that needs
to be carefully taught but also turns out to be an acquired taste.
It is only to be expected, therefore, that speech antedates
writing by far-mankind acquired writing not earlier than 4000 B.C.;
many communities in human history remained and even now remain without
any accepted writing system; many persons remain without writing even without being visually
or manually handicapped or feeble-minded or deprived of exposure to
writing. In the history of
mankind loud reading antedates silent reading, and children indulge
in ‘loud writing’ before they settle down to writing
Rather, language is essentially plugged
into speech and writing is
an optional appendage to language that enables ene to substitute writing
for speech. Changes in speech
habits lead to changes in the national symbol system, while the same
language can carry on with alternate writing systems.
Writing, being modelled after speech, remains; unidimensional;
and unidirectional though visual signs don’t have to be so.
writing is not wholly plugged onto speech, silent reading, which by-passes
speech, quickly gets established once it is introduced anywhere. Any fast, adult reader may even suppress inner
vocalizations poetry of course resists such suppression, as does the
script of a play, indeed these ask for loud reading. Writing can exceed the unidimensionality and unidirectionality imposed
on it by speech and enjoy the advantages of notes and charts, ready-access
inventories, the capacity to sustain alternate loud reading, and the
opportunity it affords for back-tracking, fast-forwarding, and ruminating.
writing is introduced and established, language users are offered
a choice between the relatively more permanent but more distant written
signalling and the relatively more intimate but more intimate but
more evanescent speech, between a telegram and a telephone call.
While literacy may confer status on a person or a community,
orality in a language confers ready access to other persons. Messages conveyed through writing tend to be more improvised, more
intimate. While writing tends
to achieve length through elaboration and shortness through compression,
speech tends to achieve length through relaxation and shortness through
ellipsis. While re-edited vocabulary and syntax, writing
tends to achieve intensity or subtlety by falling back on pre-edited
vocabulary and syntax, speech depends on diction and
accompanying face and body gestures for these effects.
In sum, when one compares the relationship
between language and speech on the one hand and the relationship between
language and writing on the other hand, one undoubtedly detects a
major asymmetry in terms of the attendant life-history of language
users. Speech, like certain facial and bodily movements,
is part of man’s behavioral endowment. Writing, like cooking, clothing, and sheltering, is a piece of widely
disseminated technology. At
the same time, one has to concede that whatever comes more naturally
in speech can be achieved in writing through cunning and whatever
comes more naturally in writing can be achieved in speech through
rehearsing and gesturing. In other words, there is a certain broad functional
symmetry between these two alternate manifestations of language.
Both make use of technological supplements like telecommunication
and duplication to enhance their space and time reach.
order to understand better this functional symmetry between speech
and writing, it will be best to make two more distinction.
First, we need to distinguish between
Freedom form listening defects such as missing distinction of articulation,
of timing and transition (being’deaf’ ti
Such as defective articulation, defective timing and transition
(slurring, sluttering or the like), and defective toning and
volume (shrillness, flat monotony, or the like);
oral proficiency –1. controlled
and effective use of diction, accompanying gesture, improvised vocabulary
and syntax, memorizing and mimicking. Secondly, we
make a corresponding distinction between—2.
ready and discriminating listening (with awareness of nuances,
alternating norms of speech or the like).
1) from writing deficiency (such as illegibility, excessive slowness,
incoherence in syntax, excessively poor vocabulary); 2) from reading
deficiency (such as halting, slow and poor comprehension or the like)
literacy—1) ready and effective composition (with logical coherence,
a certain minimal appeal, discriminating choice in vocabulary or the
like). 2) ready and discriminating interpretation (with awareness
of nuances, fund of common knowledge, catching of allusions or the
When speech successfully competes with writing in deliberateness,
decorum, elaboration, or concision, one naturally attributes this
to secondary oral proficiency or eloquence. When writing successfully competes with speech in spontaneity,
intimacy, relaxation, or terseness, one naturally attributes
this to secondary literacy or craft—especially a craft that effaces
then, there has been a persistent feeling that there is more to this
distinction than the difference in the functioning of speech and writing,
the source of this feeling must lie elsewhere than in the attendant
life history of the language users or in the day-to-day display of
truth of the matter is that the reference to speech or writing is
often symbolic of differences that lie elsewhere but that tend to
be associated with speech and writing. The spoken use of language
(parole) and the written use of language (écriture) are simply metaphors for two quite different
conceptions that people entertain about the nature of language use.
The question to ask is not how the message in language is being
manifested or signalled but rather how the person is using language
in coping with reality. Two
radically different answers have been proposed to this other, and
(1) Using language for coping consists
in doing something, performing an act, making a gesture
(2) Using language for coping consists
in making something, fashioning an object, composing a text.
is, then, simply a metaphor for language use as an act or gesture. (Writing is viewed as no more than recorded
gesture.) Alternatively, writing
is simply a metaphor for language use as an object or text. (Speech is viewed as no more than performed
us take a closer look at these two alternate views of language use—as
a gesture and as a text.
use as a gesture is a deed and so is a part and parcel of man’s coping
with reality. It is thus closely
identified with the language user and with man’s attempts to come
to terms with reality. It
makes a difference to the life as lived both by the person speaking
(or writing) and by the person listening (or reading).
The rôle of the recipient involved
in the language transaction is that of making an active response to
this gesture made by the other partner in the transaction.
use as a text is an object and as such comes to have an existence
apart form the coping with reality that brought it forth I the first
place. A gesture can be merely copied, but a text
can be quoted from or re-used in a fresh event or handed down to the
text generation no less than be copied.
So a text thus gets detached so to say form the language user
and from man’s attempts to come to terms with reality. It makes a
differences to the reality as understood both by the person writing
(or speaking) and by the person reading (or listening). The rôle of the recipient involved I the language transaction
consists in making out an interpretation of the text presented by
these conceptions of language use apply to speech as well as writing. There are written gestures as well as oral
texts. A letter of resignation is as much a gesture as mouthing a
piece of insult or abuse. The
U.S. President’s State of the Union address is as much a text as the
either case language use is being seen as a coping with reality and
as much open to the distinction between a rational approach and an
imaginative approach. Doing
something in the rational vein is work and work can sometimes be organized
into routines, but doing something in the imaginative vein in play
and play can sometimes be organized into games.
Language use, when conceived as an act or gesture, can be either
work, even routine work or play, even game-playing.
Alternatively, making something in the rational spirit is producing
an object, but making something in the imaginative spirit is creating
an object. Language use, when conceived as an object or text, can
be either something produced or something created.
literary works illustrate one kind of language use. Consequently, the two alternate conceptions of language use will
apply to literary works. Literary
works then could be seen either as acts or gestures or as objects
or texts—either as acts of speech (parole) or as pieces of
writing (écriture). This opens the way or extending the metaphor of speech/writing beyond language use to language arts
as such. It is interesting
that one can identify instances of art either as ‘work’ ( æurve) or as ‘object’ (object).
As one would expect, the metaphor of art as speech
and gesture and the metaphor of art as writing and text are based
to best advantage in respect of ‘the arts of language’—and these include
not only poetry and prose literature but also poetic and prose drama
and d cinema featuring story and speech. These are to be so called
both because they employ language material and because, like language,
they communicate and understanding of life and reality.
A work of art is seen either as an autonomous act of speech
achieving delight or form or as a transitive written text conveying
insight or the feel of life. Thus,
a poem or a song or a novel or a play or a feature film can be responded
to as an enclosed ‘hall of mirrors’ or read as a ‘room with a view’.
bound up with the specific context in which the artist
is addressing the recipient. The
transitive written text affording a view of the world out there is
free from its immediate context and thus open to interpretation by
any recipient whosoever.
there are ‘the arts of design’ (such as product and too design, of
interiors and exteriors, and architecture) and ‘the arts of spectacle’
(such as acrobatics and animal show, magic show, son et lumiére shows). A work of art in such cases in seen either
as an autonomous act of speech displaying the material vehicle and
structuring the environment to our delight or as a transitive written
text embodying the functional content and a certain vision of the
there are ‘the arts for display’ (such as painting or drawing, still
and moving sculpture or photography, non-verbal photography). A work of art in such cases, whether abstract or representational,
is seen either as an autonomous act of speech embodying a response
to reality or as a transitive written text conveying an interpretation
Fourthly, there are ‘the arts of performance’ (such as non-verbal
music like sitār or tarāna, verbal music like
khayāl, musical theatre, abstract and dramatic dance). (If the music subserves the song, that will
illustrate one of the arts of language.)
A work of art in such cases is seen either as an autonomous
act of speech embodying a response to life or as a transitive written
text conveying an interpretation of life.
In the former view, such arts work best when improvised like
speech. In the latter view, such arts call for a script.
(It is interesting that in traditional India, where speech
prevails over writing, music is improvised rather than scripted by
a musical scales are movable rather than fixed. In Indian classical
dance Kathak and Bharatha-nā¶yam present a study in contrast
between ‘spoken’ and ‘written’
dance gestures and movements; perhaps khayāl and Dhrupad
could likewise be seen as ‘spoken’ and ‘written’ music.)
Finally, there is ‘the art of criticism’. A work of criticism is seen either as an autonomous
act of speech embodying a response to art or as a transitive written
text conveying an interpretation of art.
This was presented in an international seminar on Oral Tradition,
Written Word, and Communication Systems, at Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi,
February 1992. This was remained