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to use words as they will be most readily understood by men of reading and taste.
In this view I have chosen to make the head of Modulation so generic, as to include pitch, quantity, rate, rhetorical pause, transition, expression, and representation.
Graiis dedit ore rotundo
SECT. 1. Importance of a good articulation.
ON whatever subject, and for whatever purpose, a man speaks to his fellow men, they will never listen to him with interest, unless they can hear what he says; and that without effort. If his utterance is rapid and indistinct, no weight of his sentiments, no strength or smoothness of voice, no excellence of modulation, emphasis, or cadence, will enable him to speak so as to be heard with pleasure. For his own sake too, the public speaker should feel the importance of a clear articulation. Without this, the necessary apprehension that his voice may not reach distant hearers, will lead to elevation of pitch, and increase of quantity; till he gradually forms a habit of vociferation, at the expense of all interesting variety, if not, (as in too many cases it has turned out,) with the
sacrifice of lungs and life. Every one who is accustomed to converse with partially deaf persons, knows how much more easily they hear a moderate voice with clear articulation, than one that is loud, but rapid and indistinct. In addressing a public assembly, the same advantage attends a voice of inferior strength, which marks the proper distinction of letters and syllables.
For these reasons the ancients regarded articulation as the first requisite in delivery ;--without which indeed, all other acquisitions are vain. On this account Cicero says,* the Catuli were esteemed the best speakers of the Latin language; their tones being sweet, and their syllables uttered without effort, in a voice neither feeble nor clamorSo fastidious was the Roman ear, even among the uneducated, that the same orator says, "in repetition of a verse, the whole theatre was in an uproar, if there happened to be one syllable too many or too few. Not that the crowd had any notion of numbers; nor could they tell what it was which gave the offence, nor in what respect it was a fault." It was not because the fire of genius was wanting in the youthful orator of Athens, that his audience repeatedly met his first efforts in speaking, with hisses; but it was on account of his feeble, hurried, stammering utterance. To correct these faults it was that he betook himself to speaking amid the sound of dashing waves, the effort of walking up hill, and the inconvenience of holding pebbles in his mouth; that he might acquire a body to his voice, and a habit of distinct and deliberate
* De Officiis, Lib. I.
It has been well said, that a good articulation is to the ear, what a fair hand-writing, or a fair type is to the eye. Who has not felt the perplexity of supplying a word, torn away by the seal of a letter; or a dozen syllables of a book, in as many lines, cut off by the carelessness of a binder? The same inconvenience is felt from a similar omission in spoken language; with this additional disadvantage, that we are not at liberty to stop and spell out the meaning by construction. I have heard a preacher with a good voice, in addressing his hearers with the exhortation," repent, and return to the Lord, "-utter distinctly but three syllables, namely pent,―turn,—Lord. Who would excuse the printer, that should mutilate this sentence in the same manner? When a man reads Latin or Greek, we expect him to utter nouns, pronouns, and even particles, so that their several syllables, especially those denoting grammatical inflections, may be heard distinctly. Let one noun in a sentence be spoken so that the ear cannot perceive whether it is in the nominative, or accusative, or vocative, or ablative; or one verb, so as to leave it uncertain to what mood or tense it belongs, and the sense of the whole sentence is ruined.
But in the English language, abounding as it does with particles, harsh syllables, and compound words, both the necessity and the difficulty of a perfect utterance are greater still. Our thousands of prefix and suffix syllables, auxiliaries, and little words which mark grammatical connexion, render bad articulation a fatal defect in delivery. One example may illustrate my meaning. A man of indistinct utterance reads this sentence; "the magistrates ought to prove a declaration so publicly made." When
I perceive that his habit is to strike only the accented syllable clearly, sliding over others, I do not know whether it is meant that they ought to prove the declaration, or to approve it, or reprove it,―for in either case he would speak only the syllable prove. Nor do I know, whether the magistrates ought to do it, or the magistrate sought to do it.
A respectable modern writer on delivery says; "In just articulation, the words are not to be hurried over; nor precipitated syllable over syllable; nor as it were melted together into a mass of confusion. They should be neither abridged, nor prolonged; nor swallowed, nor forced; they should not be trailed, nor drawled, nor let to slip out carelessly, so as to drop unfinished. They are to be delivered out from the lips as beautiful coins newly issued from the mint, deeply and accurately impressed, perfectly finished, neatly struck by the proper organs, distinct, in due succession, and of due weight."*
SECT. 2. Causes of defective articulation.
This arises from bad organs, or bad habits, or sounds of difficult utterance.
Every one knows how the loss of a tooth, or a contusion on the lip, affects the formation of oral sounds. When there is an essential fault in the structure of the mouth; when the tongue is disproportionate in length or width, or sluggish in its movements; or the palate is too high or too low; or the teeth badly set or decayed, art may diminish, but cannot fully remove the difficulty.
In nine cases out of ten, however, imperfect articula
* Austin's Chironomia.
tion comes not so much from bad organs as from the abuse of good ones. Sheridan says; "In several northern counties of England, there are scarce any of the inhabitants who can pronounce the letter R at all. Yet it would be strange to suppose that all those people should have been so unfortunately distinguished from other natives of this island, as to be born with any peculiar defect in their organs, when this matter is so plainly to be accounted for upon the principle of imitation and habit." Though provincialisms are fewer in this country than in most others, a similar incapacity is witnessed, in families or districts more or less extensive, to speak certain letters or syllables, which are elsewhere spoken with perfect ease. The same act extends to different nations. There are some sounds of the English language, as the nice distinction between d and t, and between the two aspirated sounds of th, that adult natives of France and Germany cannot learn to pronounce. Some sounds in their languages are equally difficult to us; but this implies no original difference of vocal organs. And surely no defect in these need be supposed, to account for stubborn imperfections in the utterance of those who from infancy have been under the influence of vulgar example.
Besides the mischief that comes from early imitation, the animal and intellectual temperament doubtless has some connexion with this subject. A sluggish action of the mind imparts a correspondent character to the action of the vocal organs, and makes speech only a succession of indolent, half-formed sounds, more resembling the muttering of a dream than the clear articulation, which we ought to expect in one who knows what he is saying.