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Talking about the Soundtrack to Life

How to analyse sound in text - part 2


We've already looked at steps 1 and 2 in part 1 of how to analyse sound in text


Now to Step 3 - Find a literary term to use to describe the sound.



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It is vital that you make sure that you are always identifying the sound as well as the device, but we'll talk more about making sure you do that in part 3 of this series.




The terms that we will use for our sound analysis are as follows:


Alliteration – Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of two or more words in a sentence. For example, 'Terrible trumpets train tremendously'. You can ignore little joining words in sentences if you find an alliterative sentence; for example, 'the terrible trumpets train with tempo' is still alliteration, even though there's a 'with in the middle of the sentence'. At this level, you are no longer going to just identify alliteration and use it as a noun (e.g. 'there is alliteration in...'). Instead you are going to say that sounds are “alliterative“ and then you are going to put in the sound that you think is being repeated. For example your sentence may now read “the alliterative 'm' sounds here…“.

Sibilance – sibilance is the repetition of S sounds in two or more words in a line of text.

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Sibilance can be found at the beginning of words, but also within them. So “Susie snake sucks Smarties“ is sibilance, but so is “her long dresses nestled softly in her scarf“.




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Assonance – assonance is tricky! You’re looking for the repetition of vowel sounds in a sentence and between two or more words in that sentence. You can find assonance in poetry and you’re also allowed to find assonance in prose, should you wish to! To find assonance remember to think of vowels as sounds and not letters. For example, 'y' and 'I' make the same vowel sound, which means that “crying“ and “time“ share the sound: 'I' - so this is an example of assonance“. Remember, it can be very easy to focus on letters rather than sounds when you are analysing text, especially if you are not reading aloud, and this is something that you need to try and move away from.


Consonance – just as a assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in two or more words in a line, so consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in two or more words in a sentence. Remember, that the vowel sounds are 'ay', 'ee' 'I', 'oh' and 'yew' (AEIOU), and the consonant sounds are everything else. You are looking for the consonant sounds to be in the middle of words. Do not find consonance at the beginning of words. This is because if you find a repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words, then what you have actually found is alliteration. An example of consonance is the 'm' sounds in “coming home”.

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Cacophony – a cacophony is a sound in which the component parts are not harmonious; they do not match with each other. If you could hear them aloud it might sound something like an orchestra tuning up: every instrument is doing different things at different times, and making different noises, and not in any kind of agreement with each other. You are more likely to find cacophony in poems about conflict, disharmony, arguments, and uncomfortable or awkward situations. Cacophony can be difficult to identify, so look for sounds that end with letters that you would have to pronounce harshly. For example, 'ck' ending or words that have been placed next to each other but clearly don’t rhyme.

Euphony – euphony is the opposite of cacophony. In euphony you will find that the sounds complement each other. There is likely to be a lot of rhyme, and a lot of soft sounds (think of 'm', 'f', 'r’). You are likely to find euphony in poems about love, harmonious family relationships, romance, and in text with gentle nature based themes. They are likely to reflect serene, soft atmospheres and moods.


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Onomatopoeia – onomatopoeia is very overused, and very difficult to spell, and yet it is going to be one of the most important elements to look for when analysing sound in poetry. You can use onomatopoeia in poetry analysis and in prose analysis. You are looking for words that attempt to be spelled the way they think the word sounds. So, for example, you are looking for words like “splat“, “bang“, “squelch“ etc. Onomatopoeia can be difficult because in reality the words aren’t spelled the way they sound (if you can find a dog that actually says “bark“, then you have found a one in 1 million dog, and a rich future awaits you!). Identify onomatopoeia by finding words with unusual spellings and considering whether these are approximate to the sound they’re supposed to make. When analysing onomatopoeia for sounds, consider the type of sound they make. Is the sound loud or harsh, for example, “bang, or is the sound soft, or even sinister; for example, “hiss“. Remember it is the sound that you are linking to the atmosphere, not the word.

Slant rhyme – slant rhyme is often called half rhyme. In slant rhyme you are looking for words that almost rhyme, but don’t quite rhyme. For example, 'afraid' and 'plain'. Slant rhyme will be used to represent situations that are not quite comfortable. They probably represent atmospheres that are not exactly harmonious, but the people in there are trying to have a harmonious lifestyle. There may be some awkwardness in the air.

Guttural – guttural sounds the ones that you make from the back of your throat. To get used to this idea, while no one is looking (or even if they are!) make the sound 'g' (pronounced “guh“) aloud. As you make it, you will notice that the sound that comes out of your mouth actually emanates from the back of your throat. Now make the sound ‘m’ (pronounced “mmm“). You’ll notice that the second time, the sound came from the front of your mouth and through your lips. Those sounds that are made from the back of our throats are called gutturals. Guttural sounds are: 'g' ('guh'), 'k' ('kuh'), 'C' ('cah'). If you find a guttural sound, it is more than likely that the atmosphere being created is unpleasant in some way. Guttural sounds are reminiscent of disgust, unpleasantness. You are likely to find guttural sounds in poems about conflict, discord, unfamiliar and unpleasant surroundings.


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Plosives- A plosive sound is one that you have to spit to say! So if you have to force air quickly out of your lips or teeth to say a word, then you have found a plosive word. Say the letter, 'p' (pronounced ‘puh’) (again, to yourself if you would like, though it would work well if you have an audience that you are annoyed with right now!). You’ll notice that you have to force air out in order to pronounce the letter. Almost as if you are spitting (did you notice how “spitting“ has a plosive in it?). These letters are plosives: 'b', 'p', 't' ('buh', 'puh' 'tuh'). If you find that a poet has used plosive sounds, then you are probably dealing with text that is about conflict, aggression, anger, violence, viciousness. You probably have an angry narrator or a wild surrounding.

Masculine rhyme – whilst rhyme may not strictly be in our sound vocabulary list, we are going to just look at a couple of examples that will help us make some determinations about atmosphere. Masculine rhyme refers to two or more words in close connection, each of those words comprising two syllables. Only half of each word will rhyme, so, in a sense, it’s a type of half rhyme. For example, 'crying' and 'playing' have rhyming 'ing' suffixes. We find masculine rhyme in poems where there is a slight conflict or jarring between two ideas or concepts. It suggests an awkwardness or an uncomfortableness that is never quite resolved.


Feminine rhyme – again, a feminine rhyme occurs in two or more words in close connection. In this case the words will fully rhyme. For example, 'crying' and 'sighing'. When words rhyme completely, the expectation of the brain is satisfied. Texts that contain feminine rhyme will tend to have a positive atmosphere. They may be about childhood, innocence, joyfulness, happiness etc.


Once you have found the sound in the word, decide which of the literary terms above it might fit into. Once you have done this, you are ready for step 4 - writing it up!





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