Here’s a shocker for you: the written language was developed only to make the spoken language permanent. In fact, the written word has no meaning until it has been translated into the spoken word it represents. This is why it takes the average reader 38 percent longer to understand the written word than to understand the same word when spoken.
Think about it. Do babies learn to speak first, or to read first?
You’re lying in bed, reading a book. It dawns on you that you’ve been scanning the same paragraph over and over but you have no idea what it says. This is because the part of your brain connected to your eyes is still receiving the visual symbols we call the written word, but you are no longer hearing those words in your mind.
Stay with me. An understanding of this stuff will make your ads musical, memorable, and persuasive even when they’re being read silently off a computer screen or from a printed page.
The English language is composed of only 43 sounds.*
These sounds are called phonemes and they are the parts and pieces of words. Be careful not to think of them as letters of the alphabet.
Not every letter of the alphabet has its own sound. The letter “c” usually indicates the “k” sound, but we give it the “s” sound when it is followed by an “i”.
A single phoneme can be represented by different combinations of letters. The phoneme we hear as “sh” can be heard in the word fish, but we also hear it in fictitious, where it is created by a “t” followed by an “i.”
Don’t focus on the spelling of the word in question; it is the sound of the word we’re after.
Phonemes are important to ad writers because they carry unconscious, symbolic meanings of their own. The black-and-white definition of a word is softly colored by its sound.
A great ad writer would never call a diamond “small.” Because small is dull. Small, at best, would glow, like a pearl.
But Diamonds fling jagged shards of light.
This is why we write, “tiny little diamonds twinkling, glitt’ring and sparkling in the sun.” The sharp-edged “t” and “k” sounds are what we’re after.
In the musical fabric of language, every sound is important. What distinguishes large and small from big and little is the difference in their musics. Phonemes within a language are like the instruments in an orchestra. Just as the drums make a different kind of music than do the woodwinds, and the woodwinds make a different kind music than does the brass, so also do the drum-like stops – like p,b,t,d,k, and g – (don’t read that list as letters of the alphabet; make the sounds the letters represent,) make a different music than do the woodwind-like fricatives, the sounds that hiss or hush or buzz – like f, v, s, z, sh, th. And the fricatives make a different music than the brassy nasal velars, like the “ng” sound in song, tongue, string and bring.
Phonemes are either obstruent or sonorant.
Obstruents are perceived as harder and more masculine; sonorants as softer and more feminine. Big and little are obstruent, perfect for diamonds that fling jagged shards of light. Large and small are sonorant, just right for clothing made of soft fabric.
Now are you ready for the really trippy part? Deborah Ross, Jonathan Choi, and Dale Purves at Duke University recently discovered that the musical scale of a culture is determined by the harmonic frequencies of the vowels they speak.
Words, then, are literally music.
Ed Yong, writing for National Geographic, says, “Have you ever looked at a piano keyboard and wondered why the notes of an octave were divided up into seven white keys and five black ones? After all, the sounds that lie between one C and another form a continuous range of frequencies. And yet, throughout history and across different cultures, we have consistently divided them into sets of twelve semi-tones. Now, Deborah Ross and colleagues from Duke University have found the answer. These musical intervals actually reflect the sounds of our own speech, and are hidden in the vowels we use. Musical scales just sound right because they match the frequency ratios that our brains are primed to detect.”
This is a paragraph from the actual study at Duke:
“Expressed as ratios, the frequency relationships of the first two formants in vowel phones represent all 12 intervals of the chromatic scale. Were the formants to fall outside the ranges found in the human voice, their relationships would generate either a less complete or a more dilute representation of these specific intervals. These results imply that human preference for the intervals of the chromatic scale arises from our experience with the way speech formants modulate laryngeal harmonics to create different phonemes.”
Bottom line: You will no longer need a music bed beneath your TV and radio ads when you’ve learned to craft musical combinations of words.
In addition: musical sentences are processed in the unsuspecting right hemisphere of the brain, whereas non-musical language is processed in the suspicious, doubt-filled left.
Think of the implications for persuasion.
Indy Beagle will give you the final ingredient for making words musical on the first 2 pages of the rabbit hole.
This is worth a lot of money.
Meet me there?
Roy H. Williams
* 44 if you count the unvoiced “th” in with
as a different sound than the voiced “th” in the.
IMPORTANT: You’ll find 2 BIG announcements
on pages 3 and 4 of today’s rabbit hole. – Indy
Hundreds of thousands of computers were held hostage this month by the WannaCry ransomware, a malware that forced businesses to close while they scrambled to find a solution. The costs of cyber attacks each year are staggering, with companies losing as many as one-third of their customers in the aftershock of a major data breach. Cyber security expert Tom Kemp joins roving reporter Rotbart this week to discuss the WannaCry attack, data breaches in general, and explains what you need to know to protect yourself – and your customers – in the future. We bring you good stuff at MondayMorningRadio.com