Friday, March 13, 2015

Context Determines Inflection

I was listening to a young, relatively new, speaker who was assigned to read a conversation that occurred in history. Such an exercise can have multiple goals and challenges. His diction was “spot on.” His rate was pleasant to the ear. His volume was also just right and he used the mic competently. He read with understanding but his voice could have had a bit more life it in. However, it was not something I would have counseled him on. Yet, the person delivering the critique also caught it and, based on his comments, he felt stronger than I did.

Sometimes I feel that besides competency we also need to take into account the age and experience (not only experience as a speaker, but also life experience as a whole). After the critique was done, I stopped and thought about what exercise might teach a new student the value of modulation, inflection, intonation, and maybe even prosody.

I came up with a simple one. Consider these three words: “I see you.” To appreciate the point I am making, consider how you would say those three words in the following circumstances.

  • Mother playing peek-a-boo with baby
  • Avatar (movie) endearment  expression
  • Kids playing hide & go seek
  • An air traffic controller trying to guide a pilot landing a disabled plane.

Clearly, the context dictates how we will say those words. Usually, when reading passages that quote other people, we need to try to see ourselves in their situation and then determine how best to convey not only the message but the emotion behind it.

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