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We have seen that the words in a phrase, like the syllables in a word, differ in pitch; that is, that speech, like music, has melody. Not only is this the case, but in every syllable the voice is constantly moving up or down the scale. It is in this respect that speech differs most widely from song, where every note must be sustained on a level. This movement or bending of the voice on a word is called inflection.
The inflections of the voice are very numerous, and we shall have occasion later to study many of them; for the present, however, we will confine ourselves to the two simplest: the rising and the falling.
The rising inflection () indicates uncertainty, doubt, indifference, timidity or deference to the will of the person addressed.
Is it John? = uncertainty, doubt, timidity.
The falling inflection () is positive, and denotes completeness, certainty, and expresses the will of the speaker.
It is John.
Certainly Rising inflections start from the lower or middle tones of the voice and sweep upward.
Falling inflections strike a high pitch and sweep downward.
Just as with the melody of emphasis, the extent of the inflection will depend upon the strength of feeling behind it. Sometimes, as in great surprise, the voice sweeps through the compass of an octave on a single word. In ordinary speech, the range is very narrow. Practise the exercises in Lesson V., with many degrees of both rising and falling inflection, until you can command them at will.
In ordinary questions and in phrases which imply indifference or timidity on the part of the speaker, the words following the emphatic word tend upward instead of downward, as in a positive statement. Here the wider range of inflection distinguishes the emphatic word from the rest of the phrase. It is as if the impulse of the emphatic word carried the remaining words upward in spite of themselves. E.g., Are you sure of it?
When a question is asked with great earnestness it
often has the falling inflection, much as if it were a positive statement. Compare: Can you prove it ? I can prove it.
Where wilt thou lead me ? speak; I'll go no further.
Inflection indicates the state of the speaker's mind; it has nothing to do with the grammatical construction of the sentence.
Positive statements are sometimes put in the form of a question for greater effect. E. g., Isn't it so ? Would you have believed it ? Is it not wonderful ? meaning, it is so; you would not have believed it; it is wonderful. Questions like these are not asked for information; they answer themselves. These torical questions," as they are called, may sometimes
, be given with a rising inflection; generally, however, they are spoken with a falling slide of the voice.
Remember March, the Ides of March remember!
A positive statement that is closely connected with what follows has a slight rise or bend of the voice at the very end, which shows that the thought is not yet completely stated :
“I will walk with you, but not now.
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
From an eagle in his flight.—Longfellow.
TO THE TEACHER:-Drill the pupils separately and in unison, in
various keys and through as wide a range of inflection as possible without straining their voices. The object of this practice is not to lay down cast-iron rules, to be followed mechanically, but to give the pupil command over his voice. The minute shades of inflection which give so many subtile and beautiful effects in conversation, and occasional departures from the general type of melodic movement in phrases and sentences, especially in what are known as 'final cadences,” should be allowed and encouraged when they are true to nature. Be careful, however, that they do not degenerate into mannerisms or tunes. Teach the pupil to associate inflection with conditions of the mind, rather than with the
For instance, instead of saying "give this word a falling inflection,” say “speak more positively” or “more earnestly.” When the ear is deficient, this is the only method; but, if patiently followed, it will prove efficacious even in the most obdurate cases.
Notice that no two of these examples are to be read exactly like; each expresses some feeling that is not in the others. These delicate shades of meaning cannot be indicated by the marks of inflection. Endeavor to express the emotions that are indicated by the words in brackets.
BRUTUS. I did send to you for gold, to pay my legions,
CASSIUS. I denied you not. [Indignantly.]
Let your companions be select; let them be such as you can love for their good qualities, and whose virtues you are desirous to emulate. [
I do not rise to waste the night in words;
For Roman right, though none, it seems, dare stand
Have you heard the story the gossips tell
And do you now put on your best attire ?
[Surprise and reproach.] -Shakespeare.
Did you ever notice what life and power the Holy Scriptures have when well read ? Have you ever heard of the wonderful effect produced by Elizabeth Fry on the criminals of Newgate, by simply reading to them the parable of the Prodigal Son? Princes and peers of the realm, it is said, counted it a privilege to stand in the dismal corridors, among felons and murderers, merely to share with them the privilege of witnessing the marvelous pathos which genius, taste, and culture could infuse into that simple story. [Earnestly. ]-Hart.
Who can look down upon the grave, even of an enemy, and not feel a compunctious throb that he should ever have warred with the poor handful of earth that lies mouldering before him? [Reflectively and with sympathy. ]-Addison.
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,