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Accent takes its place in the orthoëpy of words. Inflection gives true expression to words. Emphasis defines their value in a sentence.
By accent we divide the sounds in a word into syllables (so called), and by giving more stress to one particular combination than to the others we enunciate the word properly.
The rudimental principles of accent and emphasis, and the manner of producing them, were given in the exercises for the vowel-sounds. We have been very particular in directing attention to the distinctive characteristics of the vowel, subvowel, and aspirate-sounds, and to their distinctive utterance in all words wherein they are sounded.
Words are made up of one or more syllables; but if we pronounce all the syllables with equal stress of voice, the result, so far as sound is concerned, will be that no word has been articulated. Therefore accent is the discreting element of words, and plays the important part of directing their pronunciation, and giving beauty and individuality to their proportions.
Some words, meaning very different things, are spelled alike, and distinguished by their accentuation alone; that is, the stress is placed on one syllable in the one and on another syllable in the other; as, Au-gust, the name of a month, and au-gust, an adjective expressing something grand or majestic. So also many other words differ in meaning when used to represent different parts of speech.
The pronunciation of the English language, like most others, is arbitrary, and, like other things, is exposed to the caprices of fashion and taste, and not unfrequently to vulgarism; but its most deadly foe is affectation. Provincialisms break in upon uniform rules; and all combined leave but a very uncertain clew to direct us in the use of accent. Orthoëpists disagree, and it is not the province of this work to decide. What is required by us is that on whatever syllable the accent is placed it shall be clearly, distinctly, and musically rendered.
Accent embraces three functions-Stress, Time, and Pitch-which we will illustrate as follows:
Accent denotes pitch, or the stepping down or up from a note or half-note, as the case may be.
Pitch and time may both be represented in the word ac-cent so as to correspond to one note and a half-note in music, the accented syllable taking the whole note. The following will make it plain :
The forcible prolongation of pitch on a particular syllable is called accent. Any one who is well acquainted with the musical scale, though never having practiced with reference to speech, may readily ascertain this upward and downward intonation of the tones and semitones by catching the note of the vowel-sound, and striking its corresponding tone or key on some instrument. The aspirates have nothing to do with the music of the voice.
RULE.—The accented syllable should be made more forcible in utterance and of greater prolongation than other syllables in the word, and on either a higher or lower pitch of voice.
It will be well to recall what has been before frequently said about the functions of the vowels as the conveying element of the word. The following arrangement of syllables will indicate the ranges of voice when properly accentuating a word:
Ac Any combination of sounds that represent distinct ideas, though they be monosyllables, may be said to have accent. But accent is more clearly discernible in words of two or more syllables; for it is the thread with which we unite letters and syllables into words.
There have been some critical discussions on the subject of the change of pitch which accent requires. Sheridan, in an elaborate treatise on accent, declares it to be simple force on a syllable, and likens it to “the hard and soft taps on a drum-head,” which are exactly on the same pitch, the more forcible tap producing the louder sound. Accent can be produced exactly in this way, and in our rudimentary practice of accent on the vowel-sounds we have so given it. But to say that the accented and unaccented syllables in words are always on the same pitch is to make a statement that can not be true, and which must have arisen from an uncultivated ear.
So little attention has been given to the cultivation and detection of the delicate shades of voice-sound that the ear is rarely able to
catch and discriminate closely the short and delicate steps which a cultivated voice takes in the accentuation of a word of several syllables.
Sheridan further says that the difference between our accent and that of the Greek depends upon its seat, which always occurs on a vowel in the latter, while ours may be either on a vowel or a consonant, and that the reason why the Greek accent was placed over the vowel was “that, as their accent consisted in a change of notes, they could not be distinctly expressed but by the vowels, in uttering which the passage is entirely clear for the issue of the voice without interruption or stop, as in pronouncing the consonants.”
But the fact that consonants follow a vowel in a syllable should make no difference in the change of notes, for the vowel-sound ceases as soon as it has performed its mission; and it should be sounded fully and musically, whether it ends a syllable or is followed by a consonant. This surely can in no way effect a change of note, for the sound has to be commenced anew, so that the next vowel-sound can take another note just as easily as it can resume the same sound. Besides, the musical effect of speech depends much upon the purity of the vowel-sound, and the modulation of voice which the change of pitch in accent gives.
Read the following with due attention to accent and articulation. Do not leave out any letter that is not silent, but give the accented ones their time and pitch:
It was under the burning influence of revenge that the wife of Macgregor commanded that the hostage, exchanged for her husband's safety, should be brought into her presence. I believe her sons had kept this unfortunate wretch out of her sight, for fear of the consequences; but if it was so, their humane precaution only postponed his fate. They dragged forward, at her summons, a wretch, already half-dead with terror, in whose agonized features I recognized, to my horror and astonishment, my old acquaintance Morris.
He fell prostrate before the female chief, with an effort to clasp her knees, from which she drew back as if his touch had been pollution; so that all he could do, in token of the extremity of his humiliation, was to kiss the hem of her plaid. I never heard entreaties—for life poured forth with such agony of spirit. The ecstasy of fear was such that, instead of paralyzing his tongue, as on ordinary occasions, it even rendered him—eloquent; and with cheeks as pale as ashes,—hands compressed in agony,--eyes that seemed to be taking their last look of all mortal objects, he protested, with the deepest oaths, his total ignorance of any design on the life of Rob Roy,—whom he swore he loved and honored as his own soul. In the inconsistency of his terror, he said he was but the agent of others; and he muttered the name of Rashleigh. He prayed but for life; for life—he would give all he had in the world ;-it was but life he asked ;-life, if it were to be prolonged under tortures and privations;—he asked only breath, though it should be drawn in the damps of the lowest caverns of their hills.
It is impossible to describe the scorn, the loathing and contempt, with which the wife of Macgregor regarded this wretched petitioner—for the poor boon of existence.
"I could have bid you live,” she said, “ had life been to you the same weary and wasting burden—that it is to me—that it is to every noble—and generous mind. But you,-wretch! you could creep through the world unaffected by its various disgraces, its ineffable miseries, its constantly-accumulating masses of crime and sorrow ;-you could live and enjoy yourself, while the noble-minded are betrayed,—while nameless—and birthless villains tread on the neck of the brave and long-descended ;—you could enjoy yourself, like a butcher's dog in the shambles,—battening on garbage, while the slaughter of the brave went on around you! This enjoyment you shall not live to partake of; you shall die,base dog, and that before yon cloud has passed over the sun."
She gave a brief command, in Gaelic, to her attendants, two of whom seized upon the prostrate suppliant and hurried him to the brink of a cliff which overhung the flood. He set up the most piercing and dreadful—cries that fear ever uttered;-I may well term them-dreadful, for they haunted my sleep for years afterward. As the murderers,—or executioners, call them as you will, dragged him along, he recognized me, even in that moment of horror, and exclaimed, in the last articulate words I ever heard him utter, “O Mr. Osbaldistone, save me!-save me!"
I was so much moved by this horrid spectacle that, although in momentary expectation of sharing his fate, I did attempt to speak in his behalf; but, as might have been expected, my interference was sternly disregarded. The victim was held fast by some, while others, binding a large heavy stone in a plaid, tied it around his neck, and others again eagerly stripped him of some part of his dress. Half-naked, and thus manacled, they hurried him into the lake, there about twelve feet deep,—drowning his last death-shriek with a loud halloo of vindictive triumph, over which, however, the yell of mortal agonywas distinctly heard. The heavy burden splashed in the dark-blue waters of the lake; and the Highlanders, with their pole-axes and swords, watched an instant, to guard lest, extricating himself from the load to which he was attached, he might have struggled to regain the shore. But the knot had been securely bound; the victim sank without effort; the waters, which his fall had disturbed, settled calmly over him; and the unit of that life for which he had pleaded so strongly was forever withdrawn from the sum of human existence.
Inflections embrace the concrete or continuous movements of voice on a single word; but cadence has reference to the fall or proper closing of sentences. The cadence which is most pleasing to the ear is the fall of a triade, or regular gradation of three notes, from the prevalent pitch of voice. Therefore these two movements of voice should never be confounded. Cadence never occurs properly in the middle of a sentence, nor should a sentence ever end with a feeble and depressed utterance. All the slender characteristics of voice are embraced in inflections.
Inflection and emphasis are closely related; in many respects they seem to mean so nearly the same thing that it is quite difficult to treat them as separate subjects. We can scarcely give a decided inflection to a word without its becoming, in consequence, more or less emphatic. Nor can a word receive important emphasis without taking an inflection. Yet each has its own specific function, notwithstanding both are required to give a full expression of the thought.
While treating upon accent, we demonstrated that it has its own specific mission; which is to give character to a word, or rather individuality, by throwing more stress and prolongation on one syllable than on others, the accented syllable being uttered on a different pitch of voice from the rest.
Inflection gives character and expression to the thought by pointing out all the delicate shades of meaning contained in the word. The true meaning of words, from the lips of the person pronouncing them, can never be misunderstood if the proper inflections are givenwhether of pleasure or contempt, fact or irony, love or hate, truth or falsehood.
INFLECTIONS are the subtle exponents of the state of feeling expressed in speech.
It has been said that human speech was invented for the purpose of hiding our thoughts. This statement need not be taken as correct by any means; for, although human speech conveys many falsehoods which we receive and believe, it is only so because we have not learned to hear correctly. When we have learned what certain intonations express, we can not well accept a falsehood from human lips. Truth and falsehood can not be represented alike by vocality. Each uses unconsciously its own tell-tale inflection, for each has a way of expression peculiar to itself. Our business is to learn how things express themselves.
(See GESTURE AND DEPORTMENT.) The modifications of inflections are four; viz., the rising, falling, the wave or circumflex, and the intense monotone. These will be marked in the following examples by these signs :
The rising inflection turns the voice upward on a word or sentence; as, Are you going West? All direct questions that can be answered by yes or no take this inflection. Indeed, nearly all simple questions take it.