Emphasis or Italic?

Jon Noring jon at noring.name
Fri Apr 28 22:17:34 EDT 2006

Anton wrote:

> I wish I could remember the source: I once heard on the radio a poem "fifty

> ways to pronounce the letter 'O'". It ranged from surprise, though

> despondency to orgasmic. It was a sound poem. In text it would have been


> Oh!

> Oh!

> Oh!

> .....


> Since _every_ one of the Ohs held emphasis - of some kind - it makes me

> wonder ... can ANY text-to-speech converter replicate something like that?

> "Emphasis" -- what emphasis. And of course some of them will be louder

> (i.e. stronger) than others....

Well, one would have to come up with some sort of system to
differentiate the different types of linguistic emphasis using some
type of semantic system (versus a purely "presentational" system based
on assigning pitch, speed, etc. to every "Oh!.) It's probably doable --
it may have been done -- but would not be trivial, that's for sure.

Regarding the use of italics and bold in American print conventions, I
have some notes tucked away where I found 12 distinct purposes that
italics/bold are used. In XHTML, these 12 can be marked up using a
predefined set of classes. A few that come to the top of my head:

literary emphasis
linguistic emphasis (not same as literary emphasis!)
names of ships
titles of various sorts
word used as a word
foreign phrase

That's the problem with italics and bold used in print -- they are
used in a whole slew of ways, and oftentimes to discern why something
is italicized requires understanding the context. If I were reading a
book in an unknown language (and maybe using odd punctuation), it may
be nigh impossible to figure out why something is emphasized. Now
imagine a text-to-speech engine encountering some text which is marked
up "italic". Is it a linguistic emphasis? Is it the name of a ship? Is
it a title of a book? What should the TTS application do with it? Say
it with emphasis? Or imply say "begin italics -- [say the phrase]-- end
italics"? Of course, a person could probably figure out aurally what
something is by the context, but then that's not a very pleasant reading
experience, and requires some mental attention that's better applied
somewhere else in the listening experience.



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