Friday, 21 December 2012

This voice was made for shouting

The other day I passed a young man shouting loudly into his mobile phone. Nothing unusual about that I suppose, but I couldn’t make out a word he was saying and I could hardly ask him to turn up the volume.

It’s a poor do when one can’t eavesdrop one half of a shouted conversation, but the reason I couldn’t make him out was his appalling diction. The guy could not emit a single sentence of reasonably well articulated words. He slurred everything into an incoherent, staccato mess of exclamations and expletives. I'm not even sure about the expletives - that's how bad it was.

Maybe he only needs his voice for shouting, but I wondered if anybody had ever tried to pass on to him the lifelong value of verbal fluency.

Verbal fluency seems to be one of those social skills taught largely by parents and the general social milieu, yet we don’t seem to place a high value on it. Or at least we do place a high value on it, but we seem to do it in a somewhat covert way. It's rather like not farting in lifts - you work it out for yourself from various social cues.

I don’t recall being taught verbal fluency in school for example. English, yes, but not fluency. It was somehow assumed that one would acquire fluency along with an appreciation of literature and a knowledge of grammar and sentence construction. It wasn't explained quite how important fluency would be - far more important than knowing how to identify an object clause for example.

So nobody ever told me how essential it is to be verbally fluent. I just knew, or worked it out, or maybe my mother told me at some point. It’s possible that she did and I’ve forgotten, because it was one of those things she would certainly have understood herself.

That young man will go nowhere without it. Shouting is only half the battle. Ask Gordon Brown.


Demetrius said...

Harking back to the old music halls etc. it was striking the verbal capability of the performers at the time and the ability of the ordinary people in the seats to understand it. In the latest generation there seems to be both limited vocabulary and little idea of structure. Know what I mean?

James Higham said...

Yes, I had something similar last week - two girls in the shop and as there were all sorts - Poles, Germans etc., I was trying to identify the accent.

Then a couple of words were a bit clearer and I realized it was some form of bastardized English. Oh my goodness.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I do know. On the rare occasions we watch films or TV, it's a relief to hear clear diction and a decent vocabulary.

James - yes, it can be so bad you aren't sure if it is English. It almost sounds deliberate, a concealing kind of thing.

banned said...

You remind me of the time when I was accosted outside our local train station (in a 'friendly' way) by a young man using that awful mock cockerny-faux Caribbean gutteral slang, a sort of unhanced Eastenderese plus expletives.

I just about understood that he was asking for directions somewhere but had no clue as to where and was, sadly, unable to help him.

Yvonne said...

Although I am not yet 60 I am nostalgic for the days when news readers came from drama schools where diction was taught and not solely from journalism. Radio announcers were announcers and DJs had not just a wealth of knowledge but also a 'good radio voice'.
In days of yore a bright enterprising child could make do in the world by bettering the way s/he spoke. What hope for children of today where some cannot even make themselves understood?

A K Haart said...

banned - I hate that kind of thing, it's so embarrassing when you simply can't make out what someone is saying.

Yvonne - I agree and I'm sure people can still better themselves by good diction, or at least by smoothing off the rough edges.