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subjected to the influence of the confusion of tongues of our varied and extending circle of acquaintances and friends, our speech lapsed into carelessness and indifference, resulting in half-audible syllables and mumbled words which oftentimes had to be mumbled again in response to the query, “What did you say?”
Such questions are about the only training in distinctness many ever receive. We become accustomed to the sound of our own voices and our own style of utterance, and we are not aware that what is clear to us is not always intelligible to others. If we are annoyed by frequent requests to repeat our remarks, we retort: “Do you want me to shout it?” But to make audible sounds, or “a jangling noise of words unknown,” is not speech. Spoken language is intelligible to the degree that its sounds are clearly enunciated.
We speak that we may be understood. This is so obvious that we are prone to forget it in our practice. If our speech is easily audible, the listener is pretty apt to be more interested in what we say than he would be if listening were difficult, for he has more energy to give to the thought we express. What Herbert Spencer says of economy of energy in written composition, applies with equal force to spoken language.
“ Regarding language as an apparatus of symbols for the conveyance of thought, we may say that, as in a mechanical apparatus, the more simple and the better arranged the parts, the greater will be the effect produced. In either case, whatever force is absorbed by the machine is deduced from the result. A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power
available. To recognize and interpret the symbols presented to him, requires part of this power; to arrange and combine the images suggested requires a further part; and only that part which remains can be used for realizing the thought conveyed.” 1
1 The Philosophy of Style.
It behooves the reader or speaker, then, if he would command the best attention and arouse the liveliest interest, to speak in a manner that shall render listening easy and pleasing.
45. Distinctness of speech Every person, not hampered by physical defects which interfere with the formation of the sounds of the language, can acquire distinctness of speech. Enunciation, articulation, and pronunciation are mechanical processes, which become second nature and
habitual through practice. It sometimes happens that inaudible speech is due to insufficient volume of tone, but more often the fault is traceable to enunciation. Fine, clear diction is the reward of diligence and patient endeavor; it is a distinctive token of self-control, self respect, and culture.
Closely akin to the enunciation of sounds that make up words is the pronunciation of words themselves. Correct pronunciation is to speech what right spelling is to writing and printed language. Like spelling it is conventional and mechanical. The English of Chaucer and Shakespeare has undergone marked changes in spelling since their day, and were it to be spoken now as they heard it, few would understand. A speaker is judged by his pronunciation even more critically, by the average listener, than he is by his choice of words. A poorly-managed voice may be tolerated, but the speaker who mispronounces his words is discredited and is classed with the careless and illiterate. It is only the part of wisdom, therefore, for the speaker to seek correctness of pronunciation and to speak no word about which he is in doubt - and the doubtful word should be hunted up at the first opportunity. Eternal vigilance is the price of right pronunciation. Voice, enunciation, articulation, and pronunciation are
the principal factors in the mechanical processes of speech. Proficiency in these is the result of observation, exercise, and carefully formed habits, habits at once pleasing, distinct, and graceful without self-consciousness or affectation. But back of mastery of the mechanics of speech is the more fundamental thing — the mastery of self. Fine speech proceeds out of fine character. Superficiality and insincerity reveal themselves in habits of enunciation and pronunciation as truly as in tones of the voice. A man is known by his manner of utterance. The individual cannot long conceal himself under external niceties of diction. Clear, simple, agreeable speech is the outgrowth of a well-ordered and disciplined mind, and of genuineness, grace, and strength of character. In the last analysis it is not fine speech itself that exerts the helpful and wholesome influence, but the mind and spirit of the individual made evident and potential in these outward forms. Good speech, like good language, tends to perpetuate itself, not merely through imitation of the speaker's manner, but because, through these visible and audible signs, something of the virtue and character of the man makes itself felt and passes to others.
“Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I
shall follow, As the water follows the moon, silently, with fluid steps, any.
where around the globe. All waits for the right voices; Where is the practic'd and perfect organ? Where is the devel
op'd soul ? For I see every word utter'd thence, has deeper, sweeter new
sounds, impossible on less terms. I see brains and lips closed - tympans and temples unstruck, Until that comes which has the quality to strike and unclose, Until that comes which has the quality to bring forth what lies slumbering, forever ready, in all words."
TRAINING THE VOICE
46. Characteristics of a good voice The first questions which present themselves in taking up the study of the voice are: “ What, after all, do we mean by a good speaking voice ?” “ What are some of its characteristics ?” “How may one acquire these?”
If we study the voices of different individuals we shall observe that, though the voices of no two persons sound the same, though each voice has qualities peculiar to itself, all pleasing and effective voices have certain characteristics in common. We shall find, among other things, that every person who knows how to use the voice uses it with ease. x No matter how strong or how light the tone, it is easily made. A voice so used does not become husky or hoarse, nor does it tire or wear out with use. On the contrary, use tends to improve and strengthen it. Another thing peculiar to the good voice is clearness, or purity. The tone is not husky, harsh, shrill, or nasal. Again, the well-managed voice is full and resonant, not piping, thin, flat, or hard. Furthermore, we note that the effective speaking voice is flexible, that it has good range and variety of pitch, and, moreover, throughout its range the character of the tone remains the same, that is, it does not thin out or break over into another kind or quality of sound in passing from lower to higher notes, but everywhere it retains its rich, round, and full resonance. Lastly, the controlled and expressive voice is sympathetic. It is not hard, metallic, and unfeeling, but responsive to the moods and emotions of the possessor. These are some of the more notable characteristics of the
good speaking voice which are sought in vocal training."
The following suggestions and exercises, if carefully observed and assiduously practiced, will do much, it is believed, toward securing these conditions of voice for the individual student. While good results may be attained by the student who must teach himself, the aid of a skilled teacher is highly desirable.”
x 47. How to gain ease in tone production
Much of the prevalent misuse of the voice is, without doubt, attributable to a misconception, held especially by those who have given little or no thought to the matter, that since tone i d in the throat the muscles of the throat mus ently do the work. In the case of a good many speakers these muscles, assisted by the muscles of the face, actually do the work, and hard work it is, too. No better illustration of this sort of voice use is needed than that afforded by a group of students shouting at a football game or field contest. Nor is better evidence needed of the ill effect of such practice. The hoarseness, and often the temporary loss of voice experienced by students after a game, is sufficient proof of the unnatural strain put upon the voice. Many persons who use the voice much, either in public speaking or reading aloud, or even in conversation, suffer similar, though perhaps not such extreme, consequences from unnecessary muscular tension. 1 In the program here given no technical exercises for quality or color of voice are offered for the reason that such exercises are of slight value. A sympathetic voice is an accompaniment of a sympathetic nature, and technical drills make no great demand on the sympathies and emotions. Literature which makes a strong appeal to the imagination and the spirit affords the best means of developing the sympathetic qualities of the voice. (See footnote, p. 205.) 2 The author wishes to acknowledge his obligation to Dr. S. S. Curry, whose method of voice training, tested through a period of years in college classes, has proved sound, safe, and efficacious. Many of the exercises in this chapter have been drawn from the instruction received from Dr. Curry. For
the modification of some and the addition of several others, the author alone is responsible.