Phonetic Punctuation: How Do You Hear Punctuation Marks in Your Writing?

I once wrote a post suggesting that writers should think of their writing as music, but what happens when someone takes this seriously? What would happen if we actually sounded out punctuation marks when we spoke, for instance? Well . . . we would then be using what Victor Borge aptly calls phonetic punctuation. Though he approaches the idea with humor, it’s worth noting that, in addition to being a comedian, Mr. Borge was also a conductor and a pianist. It’s probably fair to say that he understood punctuation in ways many writers do not.

Punctuation is a tricky thing. All those marks decorating the page, silent and unavoidable in our writing. Yet, those marks — which have no actual phonetic transcription, no sound (minus Victor Borge’s interpretation) — are the rhythmic backbones of words. How is that?

When you use punctuation in your stories, you are transcribing beats — pauses — that enhance and maintain the rhythm of your prose. But if you think of it from the standpoint of sound, as he does in the video, perhaps it may change your perspective. If you think of letters and words as the carriers of sound and meaning, then punctuation marks are the bridges, the ropes stringing them together.

Punctuation is a tool, and though it’s relatively easy to use within the given rules of a language, it’s still one of the most difficult tools in the writer’s arsenal to master. You have to learn to hear it the same way you hear letters and words: every pause, every stop, every small inhalation. That’s what gives your writing a pulse.

Alas, since I’ve got 10,000 more words to write for my thesis by the middle of December, all writing effort is going to it at the moment, which is the primary reason why there will be no editing post this week. However, so as not to leave you all empty-handed, I’ll share this amusing, yet linguistically thought-provoking video of phonetic punctuation. Enjoy!


How do you hear punctuation marks in your writing?