"Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Discuss word origins and meanings.

"Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by MichaelatWork » Mon Mar 24, 2008 3:35 pm

I'm wondering if it is acceptable to use the word "narrated" for the reading of books into audio book format. I've noticed some websites (notably, Audible.com) use "narrator" to refer to the person who does the reading, regardless of the type of book.

From what I've read in various dictionaries, however, I'm not certain if this is correct. It seems like it may be acceptable if the book is a story, but not if the book is another type of writing, like a dissertation, or general humor, etc.

I'm trying to create style specifications for my company, so would appreciate any feedback on this. I think a more appropriate verb would be "read," as in "Read by John Doe," but I don't want to be unnecessarily dogmatic.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by dalehileman » Mon Mar 24, 2008 3:40 pm

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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by MichaelatWork » Mon Mar 24, 2008 3:46 pm

I believe the word "transcription" is most often used for the reverse process — going from audio recording or spoken word to a written or typed version. Using that word might be confusing.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by Tony Farg » Mon Mar 24, 2008 6:52 pm

Michael, you are right. Transcription is indeed the reverse of what you want.
But I can't actually get a grip on why you feel that "read" is not the most appropriate word to describe what the person does when they read the book. It seems to me to sum up the act of reading pretty well!
Why tart it up with anything posher/longer?
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by MichaelatWork » Mon Mar 24, 2008 8:00 pm

Tony, I personally have no problem with "read." Actually at this point it is what I prefer. But since I am writing the company style book, I have to be sure of myself before I say that the word "narrated" is incorrect. It's one thing to use that word ("read") myself, it's quite another to say that everyone in my company of 150+ employees should use it, and not the other.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Mar 24, 2008 8:59 pm

If you're writing a style book for your company, Michael, you must have a certain amount of latitude when deciding what terminology to standardize on. This implies that it is a question not only of what is 'correct', but of personal and/or company preference.

That said, as an all-purpose word that fits all contexts and is free from negative connotations, 'read' seems like the obvious choice.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by russcable » Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:11 pm

I took a quick survey at Barnes and Noble and found that both fiction and non-fiction audio books say "Read by the Author" or "Read by John Smith", while every self-help title I looked at say nothing about it (I even checked the backs and sides of a few).
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:04 pm

I used to be a production manager for a company that made audio for museums and galleries around the world. We always used the term narrator to describe the person reading the script. For example "This tour was narrated by the curator".
Of the 300+ productions I personally handled we never used the term "Read by.."

In my experience "Read by..." suggests a homely enviroment where a parent reads a story to a child. Hence its use on fiction audio books at Barnes and Noble. It certainly sounds less professional to my ear.

This is another case of a Latin based word 'narrate' narrationem (nom. narratio) having a higher social value than 'read' O.E. rædan (W.Saxon). You can blame the French for that ;)
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:10 pm

In everyday speech you simply do not narrate a story. You tell a story by reading it.

Crowbarring narrate in is as annoying as policemen saying that they are looking for a male person!
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by MichaelatWork » Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:12 pm

I think you are right, that "narrate" sounds a bit more sophisticated, but I'm still wondering if it is really correct.

In your case, it would be an appropriate word to use, because one of the leading definitions is to "provide a spoken commentary to accompany a movie, broadcast, piece of music, etc.," and so I think a spoken commentary playing from speakers in a museum would be narration.

But when you are reading, say, a history book (not in story form) or some other work that is not a story, the spoken part is neither commentary nor story. Providing commentary or reading a story seem to be the critical components in the definition of narration.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:23 pm

I absolutely agree with you Bob, but, as I've stressed before, there is a marked difference between the language we use to speak to each other on a day to day basis and the language we use to express professionality and status.
If a company wants to create a homely, 'people-person' image then they use Saxon or O.E. origin words in their advertising. If a company wants to bolster its high class image and professional manner, out come the Latin origin words which entered the language via the French.
The company I worked for was the market leader in its field. We had people working for us with years of experience in audio script writing, and I can tell you there is a difference in writing for books and writing for spoken word audio too.
Museum curators were certainly not happy if we used colloquial expressions, low class language, or low prestige language in their tours and whether you like it or not, "narrated by..." is more prestigous to a museum curator. "Read by..." is perfect for a book buying public however.

Michaelatwork needs to decide what image he is trying to put across. It does not depend on the content of the audio but rather the context it is received in.
Audible.com has created a very professional image with excellent service and on-line assistance. The term "narrated by.." works for me in the context of their company image.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by dalehileman » Wed Mar 26, 2008 7:43 pm

Then how about "record"

verb: register electronically (Example: "They recorded her singing")
verb: make a record of; set down in permanent form
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Mar 26, 2008 8:04 pm

dalehileman wrote:Then how about "record"

verb: register electronically (Example: "They recorded her singing")
verb: make a record of; set down in permanent form
The problem with this is that it is the engineers who record the voice, so to use the verb from the point of view of the narrator you would have to say "Mr. Narrator was recorded reading/narrating Wuthering Heights", which makes it passive and, as I've stated in the past, the passive voice is far weaker than the active.

Look at these examples and trying saying them aloud.

Brian Blessed was recorded reading Hamlet for the BBC.
Hamlet was read by Brian Blessed for the BBC.
versus
Brian Blessed read Hamlet for the BBC.
or
Brian Blessed narrated Hamlet for the BBC.

I know which ones I prefer.
Remember, I'm talking about spoken word, not written text here.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by Shelley » Wed Mar 26, 2008 8:08 pm

Although my computer's Encarta Dictionary defines it (rather pathetically) as 1. tell story of something, or 2. speak on film, I think "narrated" is the more appropriate word only when the voice is accompanying another experience or event. Of course you would use narration when you are referring to the voiced text for a guided tour through a museum, a description of events in a documentary, or of scenes in an opera for a sightless person -- there are lots of examples. In my opinion, narrated is not the appropriate word when the voiced text IS the event. Then, the event is called reading. "Read by" is perfect for the action described. MichaelatWork, you should make clear the distinction between the two and set policy based on that. The reasons I feel strongly about this, in spite of the fact that the words are defined pretty identically, are two: 1) Using a "prestigious" word which is understood by many people to mean something you don't necessarily intend will simply complicate matters and end up backfiring in that many will just dismiss you as being overly pompous; 2) Less is more. "Read by John Smith" is elegant, plain, straightforward and says exactly what you want it to say. No confusion, no headaches. Using "read" also eliminates the complication of trying to come up with another term for text which is not a story or "narrative".

By the way, I'm in awe of the power to dictate to 150 people how they should use language in company writing.
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Re: "Narrated" acceptable for audio books?

Post by russcable » Wed Mar 26, 2008 8:24 pm

PhilHunt wrote:I used to be a production manager for a company that made audio for museums and galleries around the world. We always used the term narrator to describe the person reading the script. For example "This tour was narrated by the curator".
Narrator is appropriate in this situation because it's not a comparable situation. It would only be comparable if the gallery visitors wear blindfolds and the person has to verbally describe the paintings (and dance the architecture).

To put it another way: If a story (play, tv, written) has a narrator, that person speaks information that isn't communicated by the characters, the visuals, other audio cues, etc.
Scene - a beautiful garden full of birds singing (not narration)
John: Isn't the garden beautiful? (not narration)
Narrator: 40 years ago, this was a silent wasteland (narration)

In an audio book, one person generally reads the whole book. If one person read all the non-dialog and other people read the dialog, you might say: Narrated by Jim Dale, Harry Potter voiced by Daniel Radcliffe, Ron Weasley voiced by Rupert Grint, ...

The Harry Potter audio books are Read by Jim Dale (that's what it says on the covers) but he is the narrator of the TV show "Pushing Daisies". The TV show has pictures and the actors say their own lines.
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