What’s the Difference Between a Recitation and a Dialogue?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, January 11, 1913: Went to Sunday School this afternoon. Started to learn a recitation this evening and I think I know it now.

Click on diary entry to enlarge.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

When I read this diary entry, I realized that I didn’t know the difference between dialogue and recitation.

Few words mean exactly the same thing.  Most synonyms have nuanced differences in meaning.

Previous diary entries mentioned pieces Grandma memorized for Literary Society presentations at her high school. For example, on January 6, she wrote that she copied off part of a dialogue to memorize. My post that day included a poem called The Old Clock on the Stairs by Longfellow as an example of a dialogue.

I now realize that the poem may not have been an example of a dialogue, but rather an example of a recitation.  A dialogue requires more than one presenter.

Here are the definitions for recitation and dialogue in the Free Dictionary:

Recitation—1(a). The act of reciting memorized materials in a public performance. (b) The material so presented. 2. (a) Oral delivery of prepared lessons by a pupil. (b) The class period within which this delivery occurs.

Dialogue—1. A conversation between two or more people. 2(a) Conversation between characters in a drama or narrative. (b) The lines or passages in a scrip that are intended to be spoken. 3. A literary work written in the form of a conversation. 4. Music A composition or passage for two or more parts, suggestive of conversational interplay. 5. An exchange of ideas or opinions.

Based on these definitions I now think a dialogue is a type of recitation—but a recitation is not always a dialogue.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between a Recitation and a Dialogue?

  1. WOW!!! … Never thought about it before but, of course, this makes sense. Thanks Sheryl and thanks also SO SO SO very much for the copy of Miss Muffly’s handwriting. Reckon you can tell a lot about a person from their handwriting… love it!!!

  2. That makes a lot of sense. To think of the effort people put into this stuff! And I think it probably helped the mind in a lot of ways. Do kids memorize poems any more, I wonder.

  3. I know you are sharing a diary, but just seeing your Grandma’s handwriting and knowing it’s 100 years old is really neat. I think that’s really special. Thanks for sharing.

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