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A Good articulation, consists, in giving every letter in a syllable, its due portion of sound, according to the most approved custom of pronouncing it; and in making such a distinction, between the syllables, of which words are composed, that the ear shall without difficulty acknowledge their number; and perceive at once, to which syllable each letter belongs. Where these points are not observed, the articulation is proportionally defective.
A good articulation is to the ear, in speaking, what a fair and regular hand is to the eye, in writing; and exactness in sounding the words rightly, corresponds to propriety in spelling; in both cases, the understanding can comprehend what is offered to it, with ease and quickness, and without being obliged to have recourse to painful attention. Fairness and exactness of hand is not thought a necessary qualification of a gentleman; and is expected only from writing-masters and clerks. Nor is it a disgrace to him, even to write such a hand, as is scarcely legible. The more irregular the hand is, the more time and pains indeed it will cost the reader, to make out the words; but then he may do this at his leisure, as the marks are permanent. With regard to articulation, in which the marks of the words vanish as they are spoken, this is not the case;
and therefore it should be so distinct, that the hearer, may with ease, go along with the speaker, at the same pace. For if he should stop, to set any thing right, that is amiss in the speaker, whilst his attention is employed on that point, he loses irrecoverably, all that is said during that time. It is therefore in itself, a matter much more essentially necessary, that a speaker should have a clear and distinct articulation, than that a writer should be master of a good hand.
But it is a disgrace to a gentleman, to be guilty of false spelling, either by omitting, changing, or adding letters contrary to custom; and yet it shall be no disgrace to omit letters, or even syllables in speaking, and to huddle his words so together, as to render them utterly unintelligible. Yet surely, exactness in the latter, is a point of much more importance than in the former article, in whatever light we view it. The writing of a gentleman is submitted but to one reader at a time; who may examine it at his leisure, supply any defects of orthography, and decypher the meaning, though the characters be ever so irregular. But the words of one who speaks in public, whether delivered, or read from notes, may be, at one and the same time^ addressed to many hundred hearers; who must lose the benefit or purposed end of the discourse, in proportion as it is indistinctly pronounced.
The reason of the unequal judgment passed by mankind in this case is, that written language is taught by rule, and it is thought a shame for any one, to transgress the known rules of an art, in which he has been instructed. But spoken language is not regularly taught, but is left to chance, imitation, and early habit: and therefore, like all other things left to chance, or unsettled principles, is liable to innumerable irregularities and defects. And in this case, mankind reciprocally claim, and allow indulgence to each other. That this is the true reason, will be evident from this consideration, that amongst the Greek and Romans, where speaking was regularly taught, the. smallest erroi committed in pronouncing, was equally disgracefnl in men, as false spelling is with us.
Hence it comes to pass that faults in articulation, early contracted, are suffered to gain strength by habit, and to grow so inveterate by time, as to be incurable; partly through want of attention to the point in early years; and partly through want of skilful persons to remedy the evil after it has been suffered to take root.
I dare boldly affirm, that of the multitude of instances which offer, of a vitiated articulation, there is not one in a thousand, which proceeds from any natural defect or impediment. Of this point I had many proofs, in the school where I received my first rudiments of learning; and where the master made pronunciation a chief object of his attention; in which I never knew, a single instance, of his failing to cure, such boys as came to him with any defects of that kind; though there were numbers, who lisped or stuttered to a great degree, on their first entrance into the school; or who were utterly unable to pronounce some letters, and others very indistinctly.
The first, and most essential point in articulation, is distinctness, and therefore, its opposite is the greatest fault. Indistinctness, to a certain degree, renders the speaker unintelligible; or demands a more than ordinary attention, which is always painful to the hearer. The chief source of indistinctness, is too great precipitancy of speech.
. In all accounts of Demosthenes, we are informed, that to cure some impediments in his speech, he used to exercise himself in declaiming with pebble-stones in his mouth. What those impediments were, or how. so uncommon a method, should contribute to their removal, is left to conjecture; nor can I find that there has been any attempt made, to explain this point. But the difficulty will immediately be solved, if we suppose, that the imperfection which he wanted to remedy, was, an indistinct articulation; that owed its origin to a too great precipitancy of utterance: for the pebble-stones in that case, properly placed in the mouth, would impede the usual velocity in the action of the tongue, and bring it in time to a due degree of slowness: besides, they would be a constant memorandum to himself, to avoid any rapidity of utterance, which otherwise, from custom, without some memento of that kind, he would be apt to fall into.
The example of this prince of orators, affords the highest encouragement, to all men who labour under imperfections of speech, to endeavour their cure; as by diligence, and using proper means, they have reason to expect success. For perhaps there was not any one of his age, who laboured under so many defects in that way, even after he had advanced several years in manhood; and yet he not only got the better of all those, but arrived at such a pitch of exactness, delicacy, and power of delivery, as soon threw all competitors at a distance; though elocution had arrived at such perfection in his days, that it might justly be called the age of orators. And all this, as we are informed, was chiefly accomplished by his own labour and assiduity. This of all others is the most encouraging circumstance in these times, when a man can have little assistance from others, and must chiefly rely upon himself, and his own endeavours, to apply closely to the cure of any ill habits of delivery, and not to despair of success.
To cure any imperfections in speech, arising originally from too quick an utterance, the most effectual method, will be, to lay aside an hour every morning, to be employed in the practice of reading aloud, in a manner much slower than is necessary. This should be done in the hearing of a friend, or some person whose office it should be, to remind the reader, if at any time he should perceive him mending his pace, - and falling into his habit of a quick utterance. Let him sound all his syllables full, and have that point only in view, without reference to the sense of the words; for if he is attentive to that, he will unwarily fall into his old habit: on which account, that he may not be under any temptation of thattssort, I would have him, for some time, read the words of a vocabulary, in the alphabetical order. In this way, he will soon find out, what letters and syllables, he is apt to sound too faintly, and slur over. Let him make a list of those words; "and be sure to pronounce them over distinctly, every morning, before he proceeds to others. Let