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3. Correct division of words into syllables, as "vow el," not "vow'l"; "elm," not "el lum."
4. Correct placing of the accent, as "entire'," not en'tire"; "or'deal," not "orde'al."
If words are properly uttered in these four respects, the pronunciation is perfect. But how rarely do we hear a speaker who is able to pronounce with accuracy even the common words of our language!
The writer recalls having heard a Chautauqua lecture by a member of Congress, and having been surprised to hear the speaker in the course of an hour's address mispronounce no less than a score of common words that every schoolboy ought to know. Such instances as this lead one to believe that the educator was right who declared pronunciation to be the most neglected subject of education. Surely, if anyone ought to give careful attention to pronunciation, it is the public speaker, whose utterance is subject constantly to the criticism of his audience.
The principle of the economy of attention, set forth by Herbert Spencer in his " Philosophy of Style," is altogether important for the public speaker. The aim of the speaker should be, in the parlance of the actor, "to get his thought across" with the least possible effort on the part of the listener. The importance of this principle in pronunciation is obvious. If the speaker pronounces words incorrectly, it is more or less annoying to his hearers, as it unconsciously draws attention from his message to the mechanical form by which that message is being conveyed, thu violating the very important principle of economy of the listener's attention. The speaker must remember that pronunciation is merely one of the instruments for
conveying thought, and that whatever calls the attention of the hearer away from the thought to the instrument is objectionable.
The aim of the public speaker should be always to pronounce with accuracy and careful discrimination, but never to be so precise as to seem affected or pedantic. Such overnice pronunciation as "picture" pronounced pict-ure"; "virtue," "virt-ue"; "fortune,' "fort-une," with each syllable given an affected prominence, is always more or less disconcerting to an audience, and is as much to be avoided as the careless forms "picher," "virchoo," "forchoon." Neither the overdone nor the slovenly manner of pronunciation, but a pleasing medium between these two extremes, is the ideal.
Moreover, mispronunciation, especially the mispronunciation of everyday words, always tends to lower the speaker in the estimation of his audience. They feel that it is the business of the public speaker to know good pronunciation and to employ it in his work.
Unusual pronunciation should be avoided. Unusual or striking pronunciation should, as a rule, be avoided. It has the same distracting effect as pronunciation that is wrong. Some speakers apparently take a peculiar delight in employing novel pronunciation that comes as a kind of shock to the audience.
A justice of the United States Supreme Court, speaking on one occasion before a highly cultivated audience, annoyed his hearers by repeatedly pronouncing the word patriotism" with the short sound of the vowel a, as in the word "pat," and by pronouncing "Japan" with the accent on the first syllable, "Jap'an." Even if there were
authority for such usage, inasmuch as the majority of dictionaries and most well-informed speakers give sanction to the pronunciation of "patriotism" with the long sound of a, as in the word" pate," and of "Japan" with the accent upon the last syllable, it would be unwise for one, even of so high place as a Supreme Court justice, to use a form so unusual that the attention of the audience would be called to it every time it was pronounced.
It is best always to avoid fads and to follow the standard usage of the day.
The best usage should be employed. To be sure, the best usage is not always easy to determine, since pronunciation is changing constantly. Every new edition of the best lexicons shows many changes, and more than that, the dictionaries that are regarded as standard do not agree. This goes to show that there is no final authority, no last word in pronunciation. Yet if one follows the rule of relying upon such authorities as Webster's New International Dictionary and the Century, one cannot go far afield. Indeed, the latest editions of these works probably furnish the best available information of the usage of representative speakers at the present time.
Sectional pronunciation. The student is often perplexed to find that a word is pronounced differently in the North from what it is in the South, and that there are marked differences in the pronunciation of the same word in the East and in the West. These differences are chiefly of two kinds.
First, there is the type of pronunciation which is purely provincial, that is, the pronunciation characteristic of a given section of the country. For instance, in the
South certain sounds of a and e are improperly changed to an i sound. Thus we hear men," "pen,' many," "whence," "fence," "thence," mispronounced "min," "pin," "minny," "whince, whince," "fince," "thince." In some sections of the Middle West we hear the vowel i incorrectly changed to the vowel e, and "dish," "wish," " fish," "condition," become "desh," "wesh, "wesh," "fesh,' condetion." While in certain parts of the East the consonant r is improperly added, and we hear "idea," "data," " 'draw," "law," mispronounced "idear," "datar," "drawr," "lawr.”
These pronunciations are chiefly provincial and are unquestionably wrong. There is no such thing as good sectional pronunciation of this kind, and no authority or justification for its use.
The second difference consists of certain traits of utterance that are common to different sections of the country and, like the provincial pronunciation that we have just considered, are handed down as a kind of tradition from generation to generation. But they differ from the former in that they cannot be said to be absolutely wrong.
These may be well illustrated by the differences existing between the Southern pronunciation of the final r sound and that common in the North; or the difference in the pronunciation of this sound as between the East and the Middle West. These are differences as marked as those of the former type, and yet it would be impossible to say that any one of them is right and the others wrong.
It would be utterly futile at the present time to attempt to standardize provincialisms of this kind. Indeed, there is no apparently good reason why they should be standardized. It would unquestionably destroy much of the
beauty and charm of Southern speech if the Southerner were to attempt to pronounce his final r's as the Northerner pronounces them.
The distinction that needs to be drawn is between pronunciation where it is clearly a case of right and wrong and that in which no real principle of pronunciation is violated. The person may very properly continue in the use of the pronunciation that he has been "brought up on " unless it violates a well-established principle of good pronunciation, in which case he should by all means make an effort to overcome the fault.
English versus American pronunciation. It will be noted that there are also marked differences between the pronunciation in the United States and in other Englishspeaking countries. This causes no small amount of perplexity. The English "been," pronounced with the sound of e as in "seen," and "again" pronounced with the sound of ai in "main," are not in good use in the United States; and although they have the sanction of the dictionaries that are authoritative in England, they should be avoided in this country, inasmuch as English usage does not furnish a standard for pronunciation in the United States.
The aim of the speaker in regard to pronunciation should be:
1. To inform himself thoroughly of the pronunciation of all common English words that he will use constantly in speaking.
2. To become as familiar as possible with the pronunciation of such foreign words, proper names, and technical terms as he will be likely to use in his public speech.