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The sound of i as in wit is produced comparatively high in the throat. The sound of u as in murmur is produced comparatively low in the throat. The former is naturally adopted to express
what is clear or shrill ; the latter, what is obscure or deep in tone. The same distinction is observable, though to a less extent, between a in at and a in all ; also, in a still slighter degree, between a in ah and o in oh. The first vowel in each of these pairs is naturally uttered in a little higher key than the second.
Shakespeare speaks of the change from manhood to old age and to second childhood, when the
Big manly voice,
In reading these lines, a highly imaginative person finds his utterance involuntarily rising in pitch from the word “turning” to the word “whistles.”
For there is an unconscious tendency to imitate the pitch of sounds which we describe. We speak of the “ear-piercing fife” in a slightly higher key than we use when we mention “the deep, dull tambour's beat.” We recognize, then, Pitch, as an element in vocal expression.
In Nature, high sounds are usually produced by small things; low, by things relatively large. We recognize, and in some degree express unwittingly by the voice, this difference in the following stanzas; the first from Shelley's “Ode to a Skylark," the second from Mrs. Sigourney's “Burial of Ashmun":
All the earth and air
From one lonely cloud
The hoarse wave murmured low:
A deep response was poured. In Nature, high sounds are usually produced by rapid motions also; low, by relatively slow vibrations. Contrast the following, as you read them sympathetically :-
The fine, high, penetrating, musical note of the mosquito is produced by an inconceivably swift motion of the insect's wings.
O, it's monstrous, monstrous !
SHAKESPEARE. No property of the voice is more wonderful than that which this analysis brings to light. The Chinese are said to have less than five hundred radical words; but, by a simple variation of the musical pitch, they are enabled to express by these same roots many thousands of meanings.
The famous singer Catalani is said to have had a voice of the compass of three octaves. Ordinary voices have about two.
A high pitch is appropriate to those moods in which the soul goes out to others; as in cheerfulness, mirth, joy, distress, pity, impatience, rage, defiance, terror, surprise. A low pitch is best for those in which the soul proudly or fearfully retires within itself; as in malice, awe, solemnity, reverence, horror, despair. The pitch of voice natural for each person is, in all ordinary cases, the one to be used by him, when no special reason can be discovered for deviation.
We have seen that many vocal sounds are capable of being prolonged. During such prolongation the pitch may change. These changes are called SLIDES.
In asking, for the sake of gaining information, a question that may be answered by “yes or “no," there is an upward slide. Thus, if I ask earnestly in regard to an incredible report, “ Are you sure?” there is a long upward slide on the word “sure.” If you reply with equal earnestness and emphasis, “I am sure,” there is clearly a downward slide on the word
The rising slide inquires ; the falling asserts. The word on which the voice rises or falls is always that which mainly expresses the sense of the speaker. Thus, “ Is a candle brought forth to be put under a búshel, or under a bèd ?” Here, if the voice falls on bed, as we have indicated by the accent, an erroneous meaning is conveyed, amounting to a virtual asser
* What is the philosophy of these upward and downward slides? I have found no explanation ; but perhaps the true reason for the rising slide when a question is asked for information, to be answered by “yes” or “no,” is this : The wind goes out, as it were, and the voice with it, towards the person of whom the inquiry is made. The tendency is forth, outward, communicative; the feeling is social, tentative, objective ; the face is thrust forward ; the voice rises in the throat and tends to the lips. On the contrary, when one asserts, whether affirmatively or negatively, the slide is downward on that word which is felt by the speaker to mainly convey the assertion. This, perhaps, is because the mind comes back, as it were, from without, retires within itself, the face is drawn back, and the voice returns inward ; the soul then thrusts out no feelers ; the consciousness of self is prominent; the attitude of mind is subjective, self-poised, self-sufficient. Intense earnestness, when one is addressing others with a view to persuade, not to drive them, will cause the emphatic words to be uttered in a higher key than the unemphatic ; but if one is soliloquizing, intense earnestness, with a view to reassure one's self, causes the emphatic words to be uttered in a lower key. This subject deserves further investigation.
† The reason why “the voice falls ” in asking a question that is not to be answered by “yes” or is, because such questions virtually assert. Thus, the question, “ How many prisoners did Washington capture at Trenton?” asserts that he did capture some.
So, What are your views in regard to the tariff ?” implies that you have views on that subject.
The preponderance of the rising slide indicates an inquiring, tentative, receptive, sympathetic, objective, docile frame of mind. An habitual falling slide is characteristic of the opposite ; namely, a dogmatic, independent, didactic, subjective, self-assertive disposition.
tion that a candle is to be placed under a bed! So in Patrick Henry's inquiry, "When shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next yeàr ?" Here, if the voice should slide down on year, the meaning would be, “ We shall be stronger next year." No such intention being in the speaker's mind, the slide should be upward on bed and on year. Hence these two words are wrongly marked. They should have the upward slide. Again, “He that hath no mòney, let him come.” Here the falling slide on money asserts that the lack of money
makes no difference with the fullness of the invitation. But if we read it with the rising slide on money, we virtually insist on the inquiry whether the invited person has money, and we imply that if he has money, he is not invited !
Sometimes the voice winds from one pitch to another. Thus, in mockery, the word oh may be struck on a low note, and, the sound being prolonged, the voice may glide up through several tones of the musical scale, and then return towards the low note first uttered. This musical movement of the voice may be reversed.
The movement is not direct, straightforward, upright, or downright, but is winding, crooked, wriggling. By a deep analogy, this change of pitch often reveals a corresponding state of mind, sinuous, insincere, indirect, mocking, to
Keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope. Thus, “Ôh! you regrêtted the partition of Poland !” Here a sinuous pitch on oh and on the accented syllable of regretted gives edge to the sarcasm.
It must not be inferred, however, that this turn of voice is not often appropriate to honest, straightforward speech. Indeed, the most common use of it is to express or intimate a contrast; as to correct an error by admitting what is true and rebutting what is false. Your physician tells you that your friend, hopelessly ill of consumption, is “better to-day"; but his circumflex accent (i. e. winding pitch) on the word “better," or
“to-day," indicates clearly that the patient cannot hope for complete restoration to health. Teachers have constant occasion to use the circumflex. Thus, “True, the sun is much nearer the earth in winter; but the rays fall so much more obliquely that we receive less heat.”
By suggesting antitheses, the circumflex gives sprightliness to discourse. Thus:
I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel. But when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an if; as, “If you said sõ, then I said sô"; and they shook hands and swore brothers. Your if is the only peacemaker! Much virtue in an if.* – SHAKESPEARE.
STRESS. If we examine a vowel sound when it is prolonged, we find the force or degree of loudness varying on different parts. The first part of the sound may be loudest, as in the following quotations :
Bang! went the blunderbuss."
BYRON. By an unconscious imitation, we here give greater STRESS to the initial part of the vowel sound in bang, smack, gun's, cannon's. This is called initial stress, or radical + stress.
Some sounds in nature and in art begin gently, increase, and then diminish. Thus:
It was the last swelling peal of yonder organ, “ Their bodies rest in peace, but their name liveth evermore." I catch the solemn sound ; I
* The Irish have a good-humored sauciness in their peculiar circumflex slide; as in Sir Boyle Roche's expostulation with his shoemaker : “I tôld you to make one boot larger than the other, and you ’ve done just the opposite ; you've made one smaller than the other !”
† “ Radical” is from the Latin radix, root; as if the initial part of a sound were its root.