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Enunciation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Breathing furnishes the power for speech. The air pumped through the vocal cords causes them to vibrate and produce sounds. These sounds, in turn, are transformed into articulate speech by means of the lips, the tongue, and the jaws.

If you find that your words are frequently misunderstood or if you are asked to repeat what you have said, your enunciation is probably at fault. You fail to open your mouth wide enough; your lips are not flexible; and you have not learned to use your tongue properly.

Open Your Mouth

For one day watch the mouth of everyone who speaks to you, noting how wide he opens his mouth when he talks and how clearly he enunciates. You will notice that those who scarcely open their mouths speak in a blurred voice—and no wonder. The sound cannot escape from behind the teeth. Watch your mouth in a mirror as you practice speaking and see whether you need to cultivate a new speech habit—opening your mouth wide enough to let your voice come out clear and strong.

In this connection, it is well to remind yourself again about the importance of relaxation. Too many of us suffer from what has been called "the Great American Jaw, as rigid as the Rock of Gibraltar." With the jaws tight it is impossible to shape the sounds correctly or to permit them to come out.

Repeat the relaxation exercises on Page 19. As a special exercise for relaxing the jaw nothing is better than yawning. Let your lower jaw fall down as far as it will go; then slowly close your mouth. Practice saying "aw-ee, aw-ee ..." until you cannot refrain from yawning. Be sure to do this vigorously, dropping the lower jaw as far as possible.

How to Keep Lips Flexible

The following simple exercises are good for the lips:

1. Pull the corners of the mouth as far back toward the ears as possible and then relax them.

2. Pucker your lips as if you were blowing out a candle. Whistling also increases the flexibility of the lips.

How to Use the Tongue

Now it is time to learn to use the tongue properly. The jaw will want to participate; to prevent its interfering, whittle a kitchen match to an inch in length with notches at each end and place it between the upper and lower teeth. Now, with the jaw held in this position and the lips drawn taut, the tongue will have to work. Try these vowels: a, 6, e, (i as in kite, a as in way, a as in cat, and e as in me). Repeat just as you did with the lip and jaw exercises. Remember to inhale by expanding centrally; then pump out the column of air through the mouth, and as it is passing through, note how the tongue spreads, narrows, rises, and falls, thus creating four consecutive sounds. Now remove the match prop and repeat these sounds as well as the vowel sounds given above, keeping the column of air moving smoothly by the consistent inward stroking of the diaphragm. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed. If your voice sounds nasal, you are closing the nasal passage. If your voice sounds flat and harsh, you are being over-active in your throat. Practice until you achieve a clear resonance.

Form Vowels and Consonants Properly

Resonance of the vocal cavities plays an important part in the formation of the vowels, which are free, open sounds.

In the formation of the consonants the breath passage is obstructed or closed by lips, tongue, or some other organ of speech. Beauty of tone depends largely on how the vowel sounds are made, but clearness of speech is due chiefly to careful enunciation of the consonants.

Among our worst speech faults is the slighting of final consonants. Watch the ends of your words, particularly those ending in nd, kt, pt, st, and sts. Don't say preten' for pretend, accep' for accept, faks for facts, and lis's for lists. Don't substitute the n sound for ng—comin' for coming or lenth for length. Don't use w for wh in what, white, etc.

As an important part of your voice training, study the sections on enunciation in each of the fifteen lessons of the course Practical English and Effective Speech. These will help you give each vowel its proper sound and value and will give you drill on the troublesome consonant sounds.

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