"The source is rock, the tongue is severed”*
Word Spacing and the Alphabetisation of Silence
The subject of this research is a revaluation of the conventions of word spacing – or the space between words – as well as the rhythm and directionality of reading and writing that these conventions imply. In typography, word spacing shows the unspoken aspect of speech, a canon introduced in order to make speech’s continuous flow intelligible as distinct units. On another level, word spacing also signifies where we, as readers, position ourselves within a given flow of information. The introduction of word spacing went hand in hand with the birth of silent reading: it transformed the sentence from a linear document of speech – a score to be performed out loud – to an equation to be solved logically.
Should we still accept word spacing as a univocal convention, in a contemporary context which sees a continuous re-envisioning of forms of literacy through various transcultural and technological mediations? What constitutes a ‘distinct unit’ today, given that both language, speech and bodies are processed through a variety of optical media? Can we, by tracing a yet unavowed history of word spacing, come to challenge the hegemony of this conventions and outline new approaches and pedagogies, proposing new ways of reading, writing, teaching and learning?
Feuillets d’Hypnos, René Char, 1946
(Image: Our inheritance was left to us by no testament, a set of inscribed chamotte earthenware plaques, 2021)