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Mend your speech a little,
(SHAKESPEARE: Lear, I, i.)
42. Training the physical agents of speech THE preceding chapters have dealt with those phases of vocal expression which are the direct result of thought and feeling.)The aim so far has been to show that the promptings of the inner nature, the energies of mind and heart acting upon the voice, determine the speech style of individuals. Yet expression can be full and true only when the bodily agents are responsive and capable. The deaf and dumb person, though trained to speak by mechanical methods, never attains that natural utterance possible for the individual of normal physical endowments. His speech attainments are limited by his inability to hear his own voice or the voices of others. In common with all arts, speech involves certain mechanical processes, the mastery of which. is a prerequisite to simple, free,
and adequate utterance. The painter must first learn how to combine and lay on colors before he attempts to paint pictures for public exhibition; the pianist devotes months and years to practice for agility and responsiveness of fingers and hands before he is able to command his instrument in the service of his finest purposes; and only by dint of much labor does the writer gain mastery of words and the ability to express his thoughts easily, accurately, and attractively. All have something to express, but, until the means of expression are under control, their efforts are experimental and more or
less rudimentary. Skill and effectiveness come only by practice and experience, and the art of speech is no exception. Clear and beautiful utterance, like clear and beautiful writing, is the result of good example and diligent effort for accuracy and fineness.
Perhaps the failure on the part of many educated people to recognize the necessity of vocal training is due, partially at least, to the peculiar nature of speech itself. Of all forms of expression it seems to be the most involuntary, the most spontaneous, the least dependent on external means. The speaker needs no instrument of any sort save those agents and energies which are a part of himself. And since we have by instinct a disposition to use the organs of speech for purposes of communication, we have assumed that, like the winking of the eye or the beating of the heart, speech is an involuntary act and requires no special attention. “If you have something to say, say it and you will say it well,” is a familiar admonition. Indeed, some good people have an idea that the voice is incapable of being improved by training, and can no more be altered than one's nose or the color of one's eyes. A teacher of experience and mature years once remarked to the author: “Why talk about the speaking voice? You can't change a person's voice, can you ?” But the brain, too, is a part of oneself, yet no one questions whether it can be trained to obey the will. As the brain is strengthened by exercise, and the fingers of the musician made nimble by practice, so the voice, and all parts of the organism concerned in speech, may be improved and trained to act with a readiness and exactness no less remarkable than is the ability of the mind to hold itself to the solution of a problem in mathematics, or the response of the fingers to the will of the musician.
The child, by observation, imitation, and many halting and laborious attempts, learns to speak words. Eventually
he is no longer conscious of the effort, and when he has something to say, his thoughts shape themselves involuntarily into words. When, by much repetition, the habit of speech is formed, breath and voice and tongue and lips act together automatically. But if, when he reaches maturity, his speech is unpleasant or indistinct or otherwise faulty, it means that conscious attention to methods of utterance has not been kept up long enough and inaccurate speech has been allowed to pass into habit. The bad habit can be changed to good only by again making a conscious, voluntary effort to use the voice properly and to form words correctly. Nature has provided the physical means for speech, but she has left a good deal for us to do. She has not endowed us with language or released us from the necessity of learning how to speak. Man has had to create his own vocabulary of words, and he has had to acquire control of voice and tongue and lips in sounding and shaping the words he has invented. Every individual must go through this mechanical process and acquire this control for himself. So long as his speech remains awkward, crude, or indistinct, he has not mastered the art of it.
43. Making the tone So far as our voices are concerned, relatively few people use them well, and few make any effort to improve them. The voice of fine native power, range, resonance, and purity is about as rare as red hair among the American Indians. A few favored people are born with good voices, some acquire good voices, and a very few have good voices thrust upon them. It is not to be marvelled at that the people of other nations comment on the bad voices of Americans. The American voice has an international reputation not altogether creditable. “I grieve to say it,” remarked Dr. Holmes, “but our people, I think, have not agreeable
voices. Sharp business habits, a lean soil, independence, enterprise, and east winds, are not the best things for the larynx. Still you hear noble voices among us — I have known families famous for them — but ask the first person you meet a question, and ten to one there is a hard, sharp, metallic, matter-of-fact business clink in the accent of the answer that produces the effect of one of those bells which small tradespeople connect with their shop doors, and which springs upon the ear with such vivacity as you enter that your first impulse is to retire at once from the precincts."1
Possibly the neglect of vocal training may be partially attributed to the prevalent idea that it belongs to the merely ornamental accomplishments, and sensible people shrink from artificialities and conscious niceties of tone. But sensible training leads to no such affectation. The best voices are most simply and naturally used, and, while a good voice is one of the most beautiful possessions one can bave, it is, at the same time, one of the most useful and contributes in no small measure to the success and effectiveness and influence of the possessor. A well-controlled and .expressive voice is to the speaker or reader what a good vocabulary is to the writerąThe modulations of the voice, as has been shown in our previous study, are a vital and essential part of our vocabulary, for much can be implied in tone that cannot be said in words. We remember with pleasure the rare, kindly, persuasive voice of teacher or parent or friend; and the memory lingers long after the words themselves are forgotten.
There is in souls a sympathy with sounds,
Cowper. Now, were it not possible to improve the voice, there
1 Holmes: Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.
would be little use in talking about it. But every voice may be made better by proper training, and good voices may be kept good by attention and systematic exercise. The voice is sensitive even to slight discipline, especially before an individual has passed middle life, and a good deal may be done in later years to give it fullness, resonance, and
flexibility. 44. Forming words The production of tone is not all. Tone must be shaped into words, if spoken language is to be significant and intelligible. The process of accurately sounding the letters and syllables of words requires freedom and precision of action of tongue and lips. The control of these is acquired by use and training. Inaccurate and indistinct speech, like illegible handwriting, gives evidence of carelessness and lack of attention and discipline. As the hand is schooled to form the characters of written language clearly and gracefully, so may the word-forming organs be trained to work easily and precisely in spoken language. Most readers will remember their first laborious and not altogether elegant efforts to reproduce the beautifully slanted letters of those models of writing set at the top of the copy-book page. They will recall, too, how the copied lines, as they drew away from the model, resembled it less, and became more and more irregular and angular, until the last straggling line, begun high enough on the left, was with difficulty held from running off the lower right corner of the page.
The illustration is not inapplicable to the experience of most of us in learning to speak, though at the time it is hardly likely that we were aware of the influence of models, good, bad, or indifferent. If, as children, we were fortunate enough to hear only beautiful, distinct, and correct speech, our own efforts were perhaps not without promise. But as we came to rely more on our own copy, and were meanwhile