The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
Sharp falling and rising
These may be varied indefinitely, and serve merely to illustrate what wide varieties of combination may be
effected by these two simple inflections of the voice.
It is impossible to tabulate the various inflections which serve to express various shades of thought and
feeling. A few suggestions are offered here, together with abundant exercises for practise, but the only real
way to master inflection is to observe, experiment, and practise.
For example, take the common sentence, "Oh, he's all right." Note how a rising inflection may be made to
express faint praise, or polite doubt, or uncertainty of opinion. Then note how the same words, spoken with a
generally falling inflection may denote certainty, or good-natured approval, or enthusiastic praise, and so on.
In general, then, we find that a bending upward of the voice will suggest doubt and uncertainty, while a
decided falling inflection will suggest that you are certain of your ground.
Students dislike to be told that their speeches are "not so bad," spoken with a rising inflection. To enunciate
these words with a long falling inflection would indorse the speech rather heartily.
Say good-bye to an imaginary person whom you expect to see again tomorrow; then to a dear friend you
never expect to meet again. Note the difference in inflection.
"I have had a delightful time," when spoken at the termination of a formal tea by a frivolous woman takes
altogether different inflection than the same words spoken between lovers who have enjoyed themselves.
Mimic the two characters in repeating this and observe the difference.
Note how light and short the inflections are in the following brief quotation from "Anthony the Absolute," by
At Sea--March 28th.
This evening I told Sir Robert What's His Name he was a fool.
I was quite right in this. He is.
Every evening since the ship left Vancouver he has presided over the round table in the middle of the
smoking-room. There he sips his coffee and liqueur, and holds forth on every subject known to the mind of
man. Each subject is his subject. He is an elderly person, with a bad face and a drooping left eyelid.
They tell me that he is in the British Service--a judge somewhere down in Malaysia, where they drink more
than is good for them.
Deliver the two following selections with great earnestness, and note how the inflections differ from the
foregoing. Then reread these selections in a light, superficial manner, noting that the change of attitude is
expressed through a change of inflection.
When I read a sublime fact in Plutarch, or an unselfish deed in a line of poetry, or thrill beneath some heroic
legend, it is no longer fairyland--I have seen it matched.