I've just started listening to the New Yorker's podcasts of writers reading favorite stories. The most recent one includes the following sentence early on:
"Ahmed", she asked the Turkish student with the magnificently drooping mustache, who always wore the institutes janitorial keys hooked to his belt, "Where are they holding the symposium."Like many a sentence that has graced the New Yorker's pages, this one is a mouthful. What immediately bothered me on hearing it read is that the reader put a comma in where it doesn't belong, like this:
"Ahmed", she asked the Turkish student, with the magnificently drooping mustache, who always wore the institutes janitorial keys hooked to his belt, "Where are they holding the symposium."
This comma throws off my whole reading of the sentence. By adding a comma, my brain takes "with the..." to be non-restrictive and assumes (nonsensically) that "with the... mustache" applies to her asking the student (I'm not sure why my brain doesn't allow a non-restrictive clause here, but it doesn't -- I assume that any restrictive clauses would apply to "she" or "she asked"). I don't know exactly how to describe what an oral comma is (in this case she clearly takes a breath at the comma, but I think there's also the change in stress in the way she pronounces the next word that tells you what's happened), but I know it matters to understanding. I'm sure they carefully edited this audio, and I'm sure that had she mispronounced a word they would have rerecorded. So why not fix this one? (I'm making two assumptions that could be wrong: 1. That others hear this as a comma and 2. That a comma here is wrong).
At any rate, I hear this kind of error all the time and was excited to have one in a recording I could actually relisten to (the downside is that this is not nearly as clearcut as many such examples are). When my students make this sort of error reading aloud in class, I make sure they correct it. I find that especially when reading long sentences (Dickens, Shakespeare), allowing mispronounced punctuation to stand can quickly render a beautiful text hard to make out. I'm constantly annoyed when radio hosts and readers don't hold themselves to a similar standard.
It seems we're much more likely to let stand an error in punctuation-pronunciation than other types of pronunciation errors. That leaves me wondering: do others hear these as errors as well? Am I right that we are less likely to correct errors in punctuation than other types of pronunciation errors? Can you think of a time on the radio when you heard an announcer correct their punctuation outloud?