You might be surprised to know that at one time, reading and reading aloud were synonymous. It was especially common to read aloud when books were scarce and literacy levels low. There is a sense to this. Books and other forms of the written word are a way of storing human speech, whether it is our stories or our history or our ideas about matters of ultimate concern. Much of the New Testament consists of letters that were read aloud in the churches to which they were written. Likewise, the Psalms were Israel’s prayer and song book.
I posted the question in the title of this post recently on Facebook. I found out that quite a few people read aloud, and for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps the most popular is reading to children and grandchildren, one of my own favorite reading aloud experiences. One person even reads to her dogs (they are in the middle of The Adventures Robin Hood at present!). Others read aloud to children in Sunday Schools and libraries.
Some of our reading aloud is simply to share something delightful we’ve found. My wife certainly has endured that!
There are certain forms of literature that derive from oral discourse. Sermons, sacred texts, lectures, prayers, and poetry are good examples. One person wrote, “I read poetry out loud to myself, especially poems I am working on memorizing.” Several mentioned reading out loud in the context of memorizing.
We read out loud to comprehend. For some, it helps in noisy settings. I find reading dense writing aloud sometimes makes it more intelligible.
Some of us read aloud when we are reading a language that is not our first language. Perhaps it helps with the comprehension, and sometimes for the rhythms of the language.
One of the most delightful practices I read about were adults who read aloud to each other. One couple took turns driving and reading on long trips. My favorite was this one:
I did so as a school librarian, and have read aloud in the evenings to my husband for 44 years. His and my preferences are generally similar, although slogging through the Iliad recently was tough for me, and Pride and Prejudice was enough Austen for him.
I thought that was quite lovely, and loving, that each would work hard to grasp something that the other loved. I wondered if this was what many others did in the days before television and streaming services.
I’m reminded that the rise of audiobooks also reflects that we love being read to, whether we are children or adults.
This leads me to wonder how often writers think about their works being read aloud, about written words becoming spoken words?