On Monday, October 1, 2007, Clemson University hosted Dr. Peter Elbow, Professor of English (Emeritus) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Professor Elbow is the nationally-renowned author of such books as Writing without Teachers, Writing with Power, and Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing.
During his presentation, “What Speaking Has That Writing Needs: An Exploration of Modalities,” Professor Elbow compared the process of writing with that of speaking. He suggested that spoken language is more spontaneous than written language, which is more self-monitored, but that both speaking and writing exist on a spectrum from informal to formal. Both writing and speaking break up information into intonational “chunks” that allow audiences to better understand the message, but speaking usually has smaller chunks, allowing a greater ease of processing by listeners. Professor Elbow recommended that writers should sometimes adapt the smaller chunks from speech to assist readers with ease of comprehension. Writing that is clear and concise (like spontaneous speech) is preferable to writing that is bogged down in detail and confusion. He equated this latter form of writing to a “thicket,” one in which words are like brambles that the reader must cut through to find meaning.
Dr. Elbow is one of three scholars visiting Clemson this semester for the Communication Across the Curriculum speaker series “Communication in the 21 Century: Teaching and Learning Across the Curriculum.” Dr. Diana George presented “When Words are not Enough: Visual Communication and the Politics of Telling” on September 17, and Dr. Todd Taylor will present “Making Movies: Metamedia for Communication Across the Curriculum” on Monday, October 22 at 4pm in the Class of 1941 Studio for Student Communication, Daniel Hall.
~ Art Young