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discipline, nothing can surpass the conscious attention to the processes that unconsciously take place, more or less effectively, in all thinking and speaking. This, an original contribution to elocutionary study, is the method of this chapter.
Words have no absolute meaning. In speaking, they may be used as so much breath or sound, without any relation to the mental content. Obviously, a speaker may learn to pronounce any language, and utter pages, say of Greek or Latin, without getting or giving a single idea. This is also true of the use of words of unknown meaning in the mothertongue. Suppose I ask the average person to speak the following sentence, composed of words taken from our familiar English Bible: “The abjects pill the chapman of collops, fitches, habergons and brigandines.” The words may be correctly pronounced without the speaker having any idea of the content of the language. This is true, not only in the use of words of unknown meaning, but is also possible in the use of language commonly intelligible. Through inattention, or other cause, the mind reacts upon the words only as signs of sounds, and not as symbols of ideas. This use of words without content is common, too, in speech disorder, known as aphasia.
More common instances in which the student of speaking is interested are the cases of poorly instructed children learning to read. The word, to the struggling child, is the sign of a sound, and so he reads the sentence, “I see the horse on the hill,” in that characteristic high-pitched, monotonous, over-loud, and empty voice. Mark the contrast as he, without book, in a flexible, life-like voice, expresses spontaneously the idea out of his own mind.
A similar use of words, as sound, is heard in most manuscript delivery. The writer deals with subject as ideas when in the act of writing, but in delivery reads the manuscript as a matter of words, without rethinking or feeling again the ideas of the language.
The mental processes involved in writing differ from those involved in speaking. Some persons are able to think only at the end of the pen, while others can adequately express their ideas only in oral delivery. There are marked instances of each of these classes. The difference is attributable to natural aptitude and to previous training. Hence the necessity of oral practice by those who speak from manuscript. The time devoted to writing should be balanced by equal time given to preparation by practice in oral delivery. Usually, too, delivery from the printed page is without the legitimate and full content of the language. In short, inattention, lack of concentration, failure to appreciate the sentiments when using another's composition, or the case of giving leading attention to the means of expression (the subordinate processes), always results in the insufficient mental Content. Of course, the matter of content is a relative one. It ranges from the zero of pronouncing in an unknown tongue, to the content of an ideally perfect knower and revealer. Consequently, the statement in any given case, that the delivery is without content, must be in this relative sense. The content, moreover, from the nature of mind, must vary in each repetition of a discourse. But the clearness, force, and elegance of the speaking is always in proportion to the clearness and fulness of the mental content. When criticised, the student sometimes objects, “Why, I am sure I understood what I delivered.” But as Hume says, “Thought is quick;” and one must distinguish between thinking the thought and feeling the emotions at the instant of delivery, and the recollection of the ideas, as an act of memory, a moment later. In the latter case, the words are carried in memory, and the ideas subsequently read into them. Again, the ideational process is frequently retrospective, and thinking, in point of time, is behind the voice. The voice is distinctly in advance of the thought. This phenomenon is a matter of common observation. Besides, the matter, as we have said, is relative, and the speaker may achieve the topic and some of the leading ideas without dealing with the full content. The student must also distinguish between dealing with language for the purpose of getting the idea, and of the use of it for communication. The speaker may spend practically all of his effort in acquiring the thought, and still keep on vocalizing. He must communicate as well as acquire. This fault of mere word-utterance is not unknown in what is usually called extemporaneous delivery, though it is less common. Verbal fluency, wordiness, is the form in which the fault is recognized in this kind of delivery. But the vigor, the directness, the spontaneity, and naturalness, characteristic of extemporaneous speaking, are due mainly to the fact that in this kind of delivery the speaker deals primarily with ideas and only secondarily with words. How, then, can this ability to deal primarily with ideas be cultivated 2 This whole treatise is mainly an answer to this question. The direct way of dealing with the problem is the method of the remainder of this chapter. SEC. I. Attention. — The first condition necessary to the achievement of Content is an effective functioning of attention. This is sometimes called “concentration of attention.” Confusion of utterance, as in fright, uneasiness of mind, anger, etc., arises, not as some suppose, from having nothing to say, but from having too many ideas flitting through the mind. So also in speaking, from one cause or another, excess of ideas insufficiently focused in the attention hinders the achievement of the proposed content. While the speaker goes on uttering the “words, words, words” of his discourse, “wandering thoughts” straggle into the consciousness, and, indeed, at times side trains of thought, foreign to the purpose of the speech, preoccupy the mind. Ideas contained in the speech, ideas about its success, about the audience, reputation, and many other things, capriciously present themselves. Now, in voluntary attention, sometimes called forced attention, we choose to attend to certain objects and ideas to the exclusion of others. It is a matter of accepted psychology and of common experience, that ideas are brought by attention from the obscurer into the more distinct fields of consciousness. Attention, moreover, involves not only selection, but the adjustment of ideas in a certain order of sequence in order to fulfil the purpose of the mind. The activity of the mind may become more and more efficient. Larger and still larger content may be apprehended; and while consciousness may be narrowed down and rendered more definite and precise, at the same time a larger number of details are projected into this unity. Effective speaking depends upon rapid analysis, and this in turn depends upon the power of voluntary attention. Attention is controlled, first of all, by interest. We become absorbed only in that which interests us. Again, attention is controlled by inhibition. Inhibition is an activity of mind that enters into the very nature of attention. We promote attention to the purposed ideas by voluntarily inhibiting ideas to which we do not wish to attend. The practical value of cultivating the attention is obvious. A suggestion about another aspect of attention will be given under the chapter on “Audience.” We shall now proceed to discuss analysis. SEC. II. Analysis. – Sustained practice in logical analysis, and its application to the act of speaking, is of prime importance. Attention is involved in a most thorough-going way. The thought process is one of comparison. Only that which has connection with other elements has meaning. An idea to be significant must point to something beyond itself.
That which is isolated and separated is not capable of being thought. The process involves (1) identification or recognition, (2) discrimination or differentiation, (3) construction. The main thing it is hoped to accomplish in this somewhat meagre account of the process of thinking is to impress upon the mind of the student, first, the fact of the connection of ideas in the sentence, and secondly, the differentiation of parts as determined by the thought process. In teaching, no suggestion is oftener needed than to “discriminate 1 discriminate l’” Analysis may be conducted independent of speaking, and form no connection with it. In this case it is wholly subjective, and consequently the utterance must be feeble. Persons accustomed to write their thought analyze best by writing. This fact accounts for the ability of some persons to think best with pen in hand, and the inability of some good writers to speak. It is the first business of the student of speaking to train himself to relate the analysis to the delivery. Impose the thinking on the speaking. Thinking through the voice is a characteristic of spontaneous or conversational delivery. Finally, speak the thought. Thought grows in the act of speaking. 1. First, grasp the purpose or meaning of the address, selection, or speech as a whole. The editorial title is a convenient name for identifying the selection or address, but it is not to be relied upon for purposes of the analysis. The purpose of the address gives you the theme or subject. Unite the various ideas of the address, if possible, under a single proposition in the categorical or declaratory form. For instance, the funeral oration of Mark Antony, in “Julius Caesar,” might be put in this form as follows: “Brutus and his associates are cruel assassins.” This proposition held fairly in mind inspires and unifies the speech, and illuminates its plan. To conceal the subject to the close, and sometimes to suppress its plain statement altogether, is