Chapter XIV. Distinctness And Precision Of Utterance
In man speaks God.
- Hesiod, Words and Days.
And endless are the modes of speech, and far Extends from side to side the field of words.
- Homer, Iliad.
In popular usage the terms "pronunciation," "enunciation," and "articulation" are synonymous, but real pronunciation 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 pronunciation 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 classmate 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 hell. 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 soap for soap; Her edict exiles from her fair abode The clownish voice that utters road for road; Less stern to him who calls his coat, a coat And steers his boat believing it a boat. She pardoned one, our classic city's boast. Who said at Cambridge, most instead of most. But knit her brows and stamped her angry foot To hear a Teacher call a root a root.
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 pronouncing 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 pronunciation 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 pronounced. 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 pronounced, 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 pronunciation. For instance, we properly say that a word is mispronounced when it is accented in'-vite instead of in-vite', though it is really an offense against only one form of pronunciation - accentuation.