CONCERNING PRONUNCIATION AND GESTURE.
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How we may speak so as to be heard without Difficulty, and with Pleasure.
1.BEFORE we enter upon particular rules, I would advise all who can,
(1.) To study the art of speaking betimes, and to practice it as often as possible, before they have contracted any of the common imperfections or vices of speaking: For these may easily be avoided at first; but when they are once learned, it is extremely difficult to unlearn them. I advise all young persons,
(2.) To be governed in speaking, as in all other things, by reason rather than example, and, therefore, to have an especial care whom they imitate therein; and to imitate only what is right in their manner of speaking, not their blemishes and imperfections.
2. The first business of a speaker is, so to speak, that he may he heard and understood with ease. In order to this, it is a great advantage to have a clear, strong voice; such, at least, as will fill the place where you speak, so as to be heard by every person in it. To strengthen a weak voice, read or speak something aloud, for at least half an hour every morning; but take care not to strain your voice at first: Begin low, and raise it by degrees to the height.
3. If you are apt to falter in your speech, read something in private daily, and pronounce every word and syllable so distinctly, that they may all have their full sound and proportion. If you are apt to stammer at such and such particular expressions, take particular care, first to pronounce them plainly. When you are once able to do this, you may learn to pronounce them more fluently at your leisure.
The chief faults of speaking are: ó
(1.) The speaking too loud. This is disagreeable to the hearers, as well as inconvenient for the speaker. For they must impute it either to ignorance or affectation, which is ever so inexcusable as in preaching. Every manís voice should indeed fill the place where he speaks; but if it exceeds its natural key, it will be neither sweet, nor soft, nor agreeable, were it only on this account, that he cannot then give every word its proper and distinguishing sound.
(2.) The speaking too low. This is, of the two, more disagreeable than the former. Take care, therefore, to keep between the extremes; to preserve the key, the command of your voice; and to adapt the loudness of it to the place where you are, or the number of persons to whom you speak. In order to this, consider whether your voice be naturally loud or low: And if it incline to either extreme, correct this first in your ordinary conversation. If it be too low, converse with those that are deaf; if too loud, with those who speak softly.
(3.) The speaking in a thick, cluttering manner. Some persons mumble, or swallow some words or syllables, and do not utter the rest articulately or distinctly. This is sometimes owing to a natural defect; sometimes to a sudden flutter of spirits; but oftener to a bad habit. To cure this, accustom yourself, both in conversation and reading, to pronounce every word distinctly. Observe how full a sound some give to every word, and labor to imitate them. If no other way avail, do as Demosthenes did; who cured himself of this natural defect, by repeating orations everyday with pebbles in his mouth.
(4.) The speaking too first. This is a common fault; but not a little one; particularly when we speak of the things of God. It may be cured by habituating yourself to attend to the weight, sense, and propriety of every word you speak.
(5.) The speaking too slow is not a common fault; and when we are once warned of it, it may be easily avoided.
(6.) The speaking with an irregular, desultory, and uneven voice, raised or depressed unnaturally or unseasonably. To cure this, you should take care not to begin your periods either too high or too low; for that would necessarily lead you to an unnatural and improper variation of the voice. And remember, never either to raise or sink your voice, without a particular reason, arising either from the length of the period, or the sense or spirit of what you speak.
(7.) But the greatest and most common fault of all is, the speaking with a tone: Some have a womanish, squeaking tone; some a singing or canting one; some an high, swelling, theatrical tone, laying too much emphasis on every sentence; some have an awful, solemn tone; others an odd, whimsical, whining one, not to be expressed in words. To avoid all kinds of unnatural tones, the only rule is this, ó Endeavor to speak in public just as you do in common conversation. Attend to your subject, and deliver it in the same manner as if you were talking of it to a friend. This, if carefully observed, will correct both this and almost all the other faults of a bad pronunciation. For a good pronunciation is nothing but a natural, easy, and graceful variation of the voice, suitable to the nature and importance of the sentiments we deliver.
4. If you would be heard with pleasure, in order to make the deeper impression on your hearers, first study to render your voice as soft and sweet as possible; and the more if it be naturally harsh, hoarse, or obstreperous; which may be cured by constant exercise. By carefully using this every morning, you may in a short time wear off these defects, and contract such a smooth and tuneful delivery, as will recommend whatever you speak.
5. Secondly, labor to avoid the odious custom of coughing and spitting while you are speaking. And if at some times you cannot wholly avoid it, yet take care you do not stop in the middle of a sentence, but only at such times as will least interrupt the sense of what you are delivering.
6. Above all, take care, thirdly, to vary your voice, according to the matter on which you speak. Nothing more grates the ear, than a voice still in the same key. And yet nothing is more common; although this monotony is not only unpleasant to the ear, but destroys the effect of what is spoken.
7. The best way to learn how to vary the voice, is, to observe common discourse. Take notice how you speak yourself in ordinary conversation, and how others speak on various occasions. After the very same manner you are to vary your voice in public, allowing for the largeness of the place, and the distance of the hearers.