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DISTINCTNESS AND PRECISION OF UTTERANCE
In man speaks G.o.d.
--HESIOD, _Words and Days_.
And endless are the modes of speech, and far Extends from side to side the field of words.
In popular usage the terms "p.r.o.nunciation," "enunciation," and "articulation" are synonymous, but real p.r.o.nunciation includes three distinct processes, and may therefore be defined as, _the utterance of a syllable or a group of syllables with regard to articulation, accentuation, and enunciation_.
Distinct and precise utterance is one of the most important considerations of public speech. How preposterous it is to hear a speaker making sounds of "inarticulate earnestness" under the contented delusion that he is telling something to his audience! Telling? Telling means communicating, and how can he actually communicate without making every word distinct?
Slovenly p.r.o.nunciation results from either physical deformity or habit.
A surgeon or a surgeon dentist may correct a deformity, but your own will, working by self-observation and resolution in drill, will break a habit. All depends upon whether you think it worth while.
Defective speech is so widespread that freedom from it is the exception.
It is painfully common to hear public speakers mutilate the king's English. If they do not actually murder it, as Curran once said, they often knock an _i_ out.
A Canadian clergyman, writing in the _Homiletic Review_, relates that in his student days "a cla.s.smate who was an Englishman supplied a country church for a Sunday. On the following Monday he conducted a missionary meeting. In the course of his address he said some farmers thought they were doing their duty toward missions when they gave their 'hodds and hends' to the work, but the Lord required more. At the close of the meeting a young woman seriously said to a friend: 'I am sure the farmers do well if they give their hogs and hens to missions. It is more than most people can afford.'"
It is insufferable effrontery for any man to appear before an audience who persists in driving the _h_ out of happiness, home and heaven, and, to paraphrase Waldo Messaros, will not let it rest in h.e.l.l. He who does not show enough self-knowledge to see in himself such glaring faults, nor enough self-mastery to correct them, has no business to instruct others. If he _can_ do no better, he should be silent. If he _will_ do no better, he should also be silent.
Barring incurable physical defects--and few are incurable nowadays--the whole matter is one of will. The catalogue of those who have done the impossible by faithful work is as inspiring as a roll-call of warriors.
"The less there is of you," says Nathan Sheppard, "the more need for you to make the most of what there is of you."
Articulation is the forming and joining of the elementary sounds of speech. It seems an appalling task to utter articulately the third-of-a million words that go to make up our English vocabulary, but the way to make a beginning is really simple: _learn to utter correctly, and with easy change from one to the other, each of the forty-four elementary sounds in our language_.
The reasons why articulation is so painfully slurred by a great many public speakers are four: ignorance of the elemental sounds; failure to discriminate between sounds nearly alike; a slovenly, lazy use of the vocal organs; and a torpid will. Anyone who is still master of himself will know how to handle each of these defects.
The vowel sounds are the most vexing source of errors, especially where diphthongs are found. Who has not heard such errors as are hit off in this inimitable verse by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
Learning condemns beyond the reach of hope The careless lips that speak of s[)o]ap for s[=o]ap; Her edict exiles from her fair abode The clownish voice that utters r[)o]ad for r[=o]ad; Less stern to him who calls his c[=o]at, a c[)o]at And steers his b[=o]at believing it a b[)o]at.
She pardoned one, our cla.s.sic city's boast.
Who said at Cambridge, m[)o]st instead of m[=o]st, But knit her brows and stamped her angry foot To hear a Teacher call a r[=oo]t a r[)oo]t.
The foregoing examples are all monosyllables, but bad articulation is frequently the result of joining sounds that do not belong together.
For example, no one finds it difficult to say _beauty_, but many persist in p.r.o.nouncing _duty_ as though it were spelled either _dooty_ or _juty_. It is not only from untaught speakers that we hear such slovenly articulations as _colyum_ for _column_, and _pritty_ for _pretty_, but even great orators occasionally offend quite as unblushingly as less noted mortals.
Nearly all such are errors of carelessness, not of pure ignorance--of carelessness because the ear never tries to hear what the lips articulate. It must be exasperating to a foreigner to find that the elemental sound _ou_ gives him no hint for the p.r.o.nunciation of _bough_, _cough_, _rough_, _thorough_, and _through_, and we can well forgive even a man of culture who occasionally loses his way amidst the intricacies of English articulation, but there can be no excuse for the slovenly utterance of the simple vowel sounds which form at once the life and the beauty of our language. He who is too lazy to speak distinctly should hold his tongue.
The consonant sounds occasion serious trouble only for those who do not look with care at the spelling of words about to be p.r.o.nounced. Nothing but carelessness can account for saying _Jacop_, _Babtist_, _sevem_, _alwus_, or _sadisfy_.
"He that hath yaws to yaw, let him yaw," is the rendering which an Anglophobiac clergyman gave of the familiar scripture, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." After hearing the name of Sir Humphry Davy p.r.o.nounced, a Frenchman who wished to write to the eminent Englishman thus addressed the letter: "Serum Fridavi."
Accentuation is the stressing of the proper syllables in words. This it is that is popularly called _p.r.o.nunciation_. For instance, we properly say that a word is misp.r.o.nounced when it is accented _in'-vite_instead of _in-vite'_, though it is really an offense against only one form of p.r.o.nunciation--accentuation.
It is the work of a lifetime to learn the accents of a large vocabulary and to keep pace with changing usage; but an alert ear, the study of word-origins, and the dictionary habit, will prove to be mighty helpers in a task that can never be finally completed.
Correct enunciation is the complete utterance of all the sounds of a syllable or a word. Wrong articulation gives the wrong sound to the vowel or vowels of a word or a syllable, as _doo_ for _dew_; or unites two sounds improperly, as _hully_ for _wholly_. Wrong enunciation is the _incomplete_ utterance of a syllable or a word, the sound omitted or added being usually consonantal. To say _needcessity_ instead of _necessity_ is a wrong articulation; to say _doin_ for _doing_ is improper enunciation. The one articulates--that is, joints--two sounds that should not be joined, and thus gives the word a positively wrong sound; the other fails to touch all the sounds in the word, and _in that particular way_ also sounds the word incorrectly.
"My tex' may be foun' in the fif' and six' verses of the secon' chapter of t.i.tus; and the subjec' of my discourse is 'The Gover'ment of ar Homes.'"
What did this preacher do with his final consonants? This slovenly dropping of essential sounds is as offensive as the common habit of running words together so that they lose their individuality and distinctness. _Lighten dark_, _uppen down_, _doncher know_, _partic'lar_, _zamination_, are all too common to need comment.
Imperfect enunciation is due to lack of attention and to lazy lips. It can be corrected by resolutely attending to the formation of syllables as they are uttered. Flexible lips will enunciate difficult combinations of sounds without slighting any of them, but such flexibility cannot be attained except by habitually uttering words with distinctness and accuracy. A daily exercise in enunciating a series of sounds will in a short time give flexibility to the lips and alertness to the mind, so that no word will be uttered without receiving its due complement of sound.
Returning to our definition, we see that when the sounds of a word are properly articulated, the right syllables accented, and full value given to each sound in its enunciation, we have correct p.r.o.nunciation. Perhaps one word of caution is needed here, lest any one, anxious to bring out clearly every sound, should overdo the matter and neglect the unity and smoothness of p.r.o.nunciation. Be careful not to bring syllables into so much prominence as to make words seem long and angular. The joints must be kept decently dressed.
Before delivery, do not fail to go over your ma.n.u.script and note every sound that may possibly be misp.r.o.nounced. Consult the dictionary and make a.s.surance doubly sure. If the arrangement of words is unfavorable to clear enunciation, change either words or order and do not rest until you can follow Hamlet's directions to the players.
QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES
1. Practise repeating the following rapidly, paying particular attention to the consonants.
"Foolish Flavius, flushing feverishly, fiercely found fault with Flora's frivolity."
Mary's matchless mimicry makes much mischief.
Seated on shining shale she sells sea sh.e.l.ls.
You youngsters yielded your youthful yule-tide yearnings yesterday.
2. Sound the _l_ in each of the following words, repeated in sequence:
Blue black blinkers blocked Black Blondin's eyes.
3. Do you say a _bloo_ sky or a _blue_ sky?
4. Compare the _u_ sound in _few_ and in _new_. Say each aloud, and decide which is correct, _Noo York_, _New Yawk_, or _New York_?
5. Pay careful heed to the directions of this chapter in reading the following, from Hamlet. After the interview with the ghost of his father, Hamlet tells his friends Horatio and Marcellus that he intends to act a part:
_Horatio_. O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
_Hamlet_. And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.