The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
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
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 s[)o]ap for s[=o]ap; Her edict
exiles from her fair abode The clownish voice that utters r[)o]ad for r[=o]ad; Less stern to him who calls his
c[=o]at, a c[)o]at And steers his b[=o]at believing it a b[)o]at. She pardoned one, our classic city's boast. Who
said at Cambridge, m[)o]st instead of m[=o]st, But knit her brows and stamped her angry foot To hear a
Teacher call a r[=oo]t a r[)oo]t.
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,
"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
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'-viteinstead of in-vite',
though it is really an offense against only one form of pronunciation--accentuation.
It is the work of a lifetime to learn the accents of a large vocabulary and to keep pace with changing usage;
but an alert ear, the study of word-origins, and the dictionary habit, will prove to be mighty helpers in a task
that can never be finally completed.
Correct enunciation is the complete utterance of all the sounds of a syllable or a word. Wrong articulation
gives the wrong sound to the vowel or vowels of a word or a syllable, as doo for dew; or unites two sounds