Words as Feelings, is an interesting article at Aeon.co. The article describes the connection between specific words and sensual experience. While focusing primarily on the origins of language, the article introduces some interesting ideas that relate directly to the physical act of reading aloud. Specifically, the article addresses ways in which we communicate experiences to each other.
It’s really interesting because as we read scripture aloud, we’re interested in the experiences described in the text and the language that’s used to communicate those experiences to listening audiences. We pay attention to word choice and then use those words to create vocal imagery – sound paintings — to bring this experience to life for the audience.
The article, by Sally Davies, begins with the familiar onomatopoeias. These are words that mimic specific noises. Next, she introduces us to the idea of ideophones. These are words that are “especially vivid and evocative of sensual experiences.” These are the words we highlight as a part of text analysis when preparing to read aloud in church. Look for words like love, dream and demon. Look for words that resonate in the chest, vibrate on the lips, or are shaped with the tongue to convey experiences. Look for words that transport or enthrall us.
Then, what I REALLY like are the references to research that explore relationships between specific words, vocalization, gesture and facial expression to achieve maximum effectiveness in communication.
Reading aloud is physical
Reading aloud is a physical act. We actively breathe, speak and project our voices. We communicate information to listening audiences using specific words pertaining to our own experiences with, and the experiences of others from, the Bible. These are words that have evolved and were selected to communicate specific human experiences. The words used in the Bible are not arbitrary. Words that “resemble” their meaning are selected for a reason.
The Bible isn’t simply a book of laws. As we read, we’re not reciting rules, or guidelines or telling cautionary tales. The Bible is infused with emotional and sensual experiences. The Bible includes the language which best communicates those experiences (in any language.) By sensual, of course, I don’t mean sex (Or mainly. Song of Solomon.) I mean physical sensation, including fear, pain, hunger, awe, relief, laughter and comfort, etc. The Bible communicates the full experience of living in a world inhabited by the living God. As readers, we express all of these things with our voice. Our voices find power and authority through physical engagement and the active use of specific words.
The Bible chooses words that — like ideophones — communicate added nuance and meaning when spoken aloud. We use those words and related “vocal gestures” to communicate emotional (internal) and sensual (external) sensation. When we read aloud, we can turn even common words into ideophones that resonate with audiences and fully realize the word of God.
The article notes how remarkable it is that we can share sensual experience “across time and space” through sounds alone. But to do that we can’t read in a neutral, detached voice. The Bible is not neutral. It demands engagement.
As you read, find specific words that work like ideophones and speak them with energy. Amplify those words with [appropriate and well-modulated] gesture and facial expression to communicate joy, suffering, passion, forgiveness and the experience of grace. That’s how we begin to fully engage with the text, how we engage our audience with the text, and together how we engage in transformative experiences.
Hear the Gospel.