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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 have, 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 writer. The 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 would be little use in talking about it. But every voice may be made better by proper training, and good voices may
1 Holmes: Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.
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 irregu. lar 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
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