Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I'm doing a lot of reading these days for my course on distance education, particular since it's all online. So no boring lectures, but a lot of time spent poring over prose: and frankly, much of it constructed in a fairly academic style that is no longer as comfortable to me. I'm a professional skimmer, a bullet-pointed powerpoint consumer, a give-me-the-bottom-line manager: it feels like a lot of work to deconstruct complex relative clauses and conjunctive phrases.

All of which got me thinking (when i should instead be reading Holmberg on "the Evolution, Principles, and Practices of Distance Education") ... what if textual representation adopted some of the prosodic aspects of speech? Particularly pauses for emphasis or pacing, volume and tone modulation to make listening more interesting, that kind of thing. Of course, we have some weak attempts, like ALL CAPS that are like shouting, or ... (ellipsis) which can represent a phrase with hanging intonation. Commas can also work indicate timing and phrasing, though they're overburdened with other grammatical functionality.

But different font sizes can indicate volume and tone as well, and different spacing can be used to represent pauses. So here goes. Compare this sentence

The evolution, principles and practices of distance education describes distance education as it is today and does so against the background of its history.

to this one

The evolution,   principles    and practices of distance education  describes distance education  as it is today    and does so  against the background of its history.

Once you get over the unconventionality of the textual representation, which one do you find easier to quickly parse? In the latter, i've decreased the font size of function words, and increased the font size for key content words, and first use of terms. I've also tried to indicate phrases with additional spaces. I believe you could produce something like this automatically with a speech-to-text system that incorporated prosodic information.


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