The Art of Public Speaking
EFFICIENCY THROUGH INFLECTION
How soft the music of those village bells, Falling at intervals upon the ear In cadence sweet; now dying all
away, Now pealing loud again, and louder still, Clear and sonorous, as the gale comes on! With easy force it
opens all the cells Where Memory slept.
--WILLIAM COWPER, The Task.
Herbert Spencer remarked that "Cadence"--by which he meant the modulation of the tones of the voice in
speaking--"is the running commentary of the emotions upon the propositions of the intellect." How true this is
will appear when we reflect that the little upward and downward shadings of the voice tell more truly what we
mean than our words. The expressiveness of language is literally multiplied by this subtle power to shade the
vocal tones, and this voice-shading we call inflection.
The change of pitch within a word is even more important, because more delicate, than the change of pitch
from phrase to phrase. Indeed, one cannot be practised without the other. The bare words are only so many
bricks--inflection will make of them a pavement, a garage, or a cathedral. It is the power of inflection to
change the meaning of words that gave birth to the old saying: "It is not so much what you say, as how you
Mrs. Jameson, the Shakespearean commentator, has given us a penetrating example of the effect of inflection;
"In her impersonation of the part of Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Siddons adopted successively three different
intonations in giving the words 'We fail.' At first a quick contemptuous interrogation--'We fail?' Afterwards,
with the note of admiration--'We fail,' an accent of indignant astonishment laying the principal emphasis on
the word 'we'--'we fail.' Lastly, she fixed on what I am convinced is the true reading--We fail--with the simple
period, modulating the voice to a deep, low, resolute tone which settles the issue at once as though she had
said: 'If we fail, why then we fail, and all is over.'"
This most expressive element of our speech is the last to be mastered in attaining to naturalness in speaking a
foreign language, and its correct use is the main element in a natural, flexible utterance of our native tongue.
Without varied inflections speech becomes wooden and monotonous.
There are but two kinds of inflection, the rising and the falling, yet these two may be so shaded or so
combined that they are capable of producing as many varieties of modulation as maybe illustrated by either
one or two lines, straight or curved, thus:
[Illustration of each line]
Sharp rising and falling