Saying and Sense: Speech Movements and Imitation in Expression and Reading Aloud Edwin Salter, UK Dr. E. A. Salter worked in theatre with expertise in speech and movement before teaching in universities in London and abroad. A psychologist, he has a particular interest in personal and interactive teaching methods. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Menu Speech and purpose Movement qualities: acoupoeia and kinepoeia Modalities and language Reading and listening Example: Dickens Example: Brookner Voices and values References Speech and purpose Reading aloud within language learning seems dreadfully old-fashioned and summons up images of a classroom dimly resounding to a head down chant. No matter that this is what passes for general education in many places around the world, for such unison is found wherever examinations require only mindless rote learning, state or religion demand an uncritical imprinting of authority, or teachers and resources provide nothing better. But I want to set out some good reasons to encourage expressive speech, including reading aloud, particularly for the individual (well formed group speech has justifications of its own not least in language learning). If in a conversational exercise a student says “Yeah, ‘m okay, whadever” I have no idea if this is a choice of personal manner, an inability to make customary sounds (such as fortis t) or a lack of social skills to opt perhaps for “Yes, I’m fine thank you”. But if the latter utterance is prescribed by text at least the task is clear and we will establish if enunciation is the problem. Errors can only be corrected effectively if the task is clearly identified. I also believe that the actual movements of the speech organs in a particular language are more than acoustic contingencies. The actions of the tongue (so importantly represented in the brain) and oral region include protruding, engulfing, tightening, rising, spreading, opening, accelerating and so on - much as the accompanying face and hand gestures and postural processes. We naturally interpret these kinetic expressions in ordinary life and find them more fully in theatre and dance. Native speakers, I suggest, tend to speak words not for dictionary meaning alone but for their associated dynamics and configurations. It is worth remembering that infants and mothers gaze attentively and imitate each other with distinctive exaggeration of sound and movement, developing rhythm and relationship. In contemporary life some parents do not engage properly with their children in discussion and activity, providing instead passive or irrelevant distractions such as television and computer games. This is arguably part of a ‘toxic childhood’ pattern (rightly emphasised by Sue Palmer) that is damaging language development in many societies and so becoming an impediment to learning foreign languages also. Lively teachers are equally irreplaceable by machines. Authors, presumably hearing their own inner voice and sensing the small token movements which accompany it, also write with movement and meaning compatibility. I argue that appreciating texts at this physical level gives us an insight into their expressive character and life. A novel, for example, has its distinctive psychological constructs (perhaps explicit, as in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ or suggestive as in ‘Heart of Darkness’) and its own tone and manner of speaking within its world. The global dominance of English threatens other languages, even those with many speakers and a rich literature. A sad note when working abroad is that English is often the language of unpleasant transactions, of purchaser-servant relationships, of profanity and graffiti. Hopefully the language has qualities of richness and vitality to compensate. Movement qualities: Kinepoeia and acoupoeia It may be useful - a sort of mental warm-up exercise - to rehearse some of the aspects of everyday body movement (adopting the system of Rudolf Laban) which we employ and respond to, usually without noticing let alone analysing. Movement can be more or less speedy, at one extreme feeling urgent and hasty, at the other dilatory or languorous. The forcefulness of movement similarly ranges from powerful and stressed to soft or finely delicate. In terms of shaping, movement may be direct and clearly focused or roundabout and elaborated. Already a rough parallel emerges, for these three motion factors (designated time, weight and space) bring to mind what we might call the three P’s of speech - pace, power and pitch (or tune) - which are the main quality factors emergent in an utterance. A simple directional analysis of body movement and gesture recognises the three principle dimensions of rising-falling, retreating-advancing and opening-closing. In conversation we rapidly sense, for example, the distancing if someone is looking down their nose, backing away, closing off and so forth, even though the movement and voice cues may be slight. In their overall actions, some people seem to gather and take everything in (possessively or as understanding) while others scatter thoughts and doings (creatively or chaotically) outward. I am interested here in something more direct than analogy or metaphor, powerful and embedded as those are. Take, for almost random example, the word “plunge”. From an initial airy outwardness at the lips, the saying opens and is swallowed down toward the (partly devoiced) affricate: or “blurt”, begun with plosive sound to stay open as the tongue makes a weak closure to outward puff. That words sometimes have sound resemblance to their reference is familiar to all. Obvious examples are “slush”, “tiptoe” and “hiss”, though again notice the pushing through quality of the first saying and the light rhythmic execution of the second, while the last is a pleasingly tautological verification of the intense gesture of distaste by the face which hisses. Etymologically, onomatopoeia has a more general meaning of word making. It is useful to distinguish between two principles of correspondence, acoupoeia based on sound and kinepoeia based on movement. If we think of phonetics as a kind of oral gymnastics, of speaking as gestural, we are already part way to finding expressive values in what is kinetically done. Observe closely, for example, monologues on television or attempt the experiment of communicating by a mime (with enlarged and clarified formation) of the speaking mouth only. There is also a distinction to be drawn between exterior movement which is explicitly gestural, intended to make meaning visible to another, and interior kinaesthesis. Some signals are matters of social convention, like a hand ‘ok’ or perhaps the “t-t-t” sound of mild disapproval. Other movements are significant because of how they feel to the person making them as an internal part of the expressive act. Empathy provides a channel of understanding. So it happens - as with the tight expulsion of “Phew”, the nose-wrinkling withdrawal of “Yuck” or in the aimed ‘blowing a kiss’ - that felt and transmitted meanings have coincident basis. Profanities usually come easily with matching delivery - and we do call such swearing “Eff-ing and bee-ing”. Placing tongue in cheek may be unconscious revelation of lying or a sophisticated deliberate comment about disbelief. Drawing attention to the imitative qualities of words can help make vocabulary memorable and add a zest to teaching. With exaggeration “Are you happy or are you sad?” becomes a play on the smiling upwardness (rising intonation to high tongue vowel) of “happy” contrasted with the truly ‘down in the mouth’ (low tongue vowel, falling intonation to weak devoiced d) quality of “sad”. If a new vocabulary word is introduced, adding an appropriate gesture can help to fix it and will encourage students in their own inventiveness. For example, the word “Sign” invites a mysterious finger gesture around the eye (vowel sound) to see the meaning; and “Heart” might come with a hand flutter at the chest “h-h-h-heart”. Say “Brave” and “Timid” with appropriate contrast of voice and stance. And so on. A brief interlude of group speech which makes sound compositions out of words that are related by their poeia and meaning can enliven a jaded class or give flight to talent. Perhaps try, for example, “whisper/ throw/ high/ shine” for overlapping voiceless effects or “rat-at-at/ take my hat/ get there first/ ha!” for a rhythmic narrative chorus. (Personally I would also get the speakers moving and might add percussion if I thought it acceptable.) Perhaps the students can invent such tasks or words be taken by chance from a prepared selection. Modalities and language Much speech reports perception. Infants typically discover a few favourite words naming things which interest them. Adults too often exchange quite unnecessary confirmations, as tourists say “River” or “Church” to a companion who is looking at the same thing. More generally we use exchanges such as a self-evident “Nice day!” as safe openers for dialogue. Naming is a basic tactic of verbal learning and behaviour, perhaps a reminder that the most early evolutionary uses of language would surely have included reporting something important not immediately perceptible to the hearer. It is most plausible that communication would have help from (perhaps indeed origin in) some mimetic enactment either of the thing itself or its characterising consequences or the likely reaction to it (try saying “bite” or “fear” with a slight mime exaggeration to a mirror). When speaking we employ gaze variously as both channel cue and content, and ‘giving a look’ may be meaning enough. It is useful to distinguish between the modalities of perception, that is whether it is based in vision, hearing or the physical sensation of kinaesthesis. Humans have superb visual perception but there are individual differences in the relative dominance of these three modalities. Some of us readily recall or create visual images, others are more wordy, and others are more concerned with feeling and sensation. It can be an interesting exercise to sort out near synonymous utterances that English provides which differ in modality. Part of the queasiness of “After hearing you I will try to see my own way to a firm position” is the mix of perceptual elements (auditory, visual, kinaesthetic). There are times when native speakers seem to be using different languages. Here for example is a quarrelsome exchange between kinaesthetic and visual (which I overheard in a furniture shop): She: ...what’s the hurry? He: It’s just like what we saw on telly you wanted. She: But it n’t comfy. He: Nice colour. She: It feels all plasticy. He: We keep looking an’ you never bloody see anything ... She: Oh stop pushin’ it ... In literature, imagery may of course focus on any of the senses evoking the non-verbal through word, structure and similitude. A famous Shakespearean example occurs in Antony and Cleopatra (2 ii) - “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne...” - in which light, sound, fragrance and sensation combine to most exotic effect. Reference to other works by literary quotation has a particular aesthetic function as in all the arts. Initially auditory because it appeals to the repertoire of language it may nevertheless bring in other modalities. Thus the title ‘The Realms of Gold’ (for a book by Margaret Drabble) may well evoke quite complex responses centred variously around the word connotations, the image itself, and the association with the work of Keats. The kinaesthetic may be less immediately familiar to the intellect, but in the form of rhythm is particularly central to poetry. The stress pattern of English is very important and may be quite new to speakers of languages where syllabic or tonal values predominate. Simple verse gives an opportunity to emphasise English stress (rather as it is found in Anglo-Saxon origins) and from basic metres the learner can gradually acquire more subtle patterns. The poetry of Tennyson provides notable examples of metrical strength and sensitivity. From the insistent rhythm of “Break, break, break...” to the astonishing plunge of ‘The Eagle’ (clasping, standing, until “And like a thunderbolt he falls’), from the intense urgency of tragic love in ‘Maud’ to the ironically easy metre of the despairing ‘Lady of Shallot’, Tennyson imparts a sense of movement. He has a particular feel for the liquid and can present a near succumbing to synaesthesia as in ‘The Lotus Eaters’ (where even “... the languid air did swoon, Breathing like one that hath a weary dream”). Reading and listening When students begin to learn a language they do not have an inner voice which naturally accompanies conscious thought in the language. One way to foster this is through reading aloud good texts which will gradually become internalised as outer and inner progressively tune in to the language of study. Historically our manner of silent reading was only gradually achieved, the 4th century Ambrose a notable example. Even good non-native speakers can find it surprisingly difficult to complete a verse of poetry simply because engrossed in the intellectual task of translation rather than the poeic task of saying, both relevant to meaning. Humorous verse can provide useful material since even mistakes can be tolerated as part of the amusement. Regular verse which is fairly predictable in all its elements is a workmanlike choice, and identifying the points of difficulty can be illuminating as to what language skills (such as grammar and vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme) remain deficient. To set the task at the right level and add interest, why not dash off a verse that connects to shared immediate experience. For example, glancing out at this moment I tap: “Through my window / The autumn comes / With dimming light / And short-lived suns - Through my door/ The winter creeps / ...” Two lines are needed to conclude and they have to contain two stresses each and end with some rhyme for “eeps”. This is not as easy for foreign speakers as you might think. Carefully selected for appropriateness of subject and difficulty, an apt text repays analysis; and sophisticated writing demands subtle attention. One way to proceed in class is: introduction, read through and questions, a spot of inspiration, then small groups to work on and finally share understanding, with the additional requirement that explanation is supported by appropriate reading. Such situations allow students to encourage and inspire each other. One person reading to a class should usually only be for short specific purposes, but well prepared solo pieces can be assembled to create a worthwhile programme. Example: Dickens As a writer of great popularity and influence who enjoyed reading aloud to audiences, Dickens is an obvious source. For illustration, here is a passage (Pickwick Papers, ch. 30), not too difficult, which happens to be full of physical incident. But the movement - the kinepoeia - which is the crucial concern lies in speaking the text itself. Reading this well is rather like being Dickens and having not only his view on the world generally but also a very English manner of speech. For brevity and clarity I shall give only one account of the text, but there are of course many variations and alternatives of justifiable merit. “The sport was at its height, the sliding was at the quickest, the laughter was at the loudest, when a sharp smart crack was heard. There was a quick rush towards the bank, a wild scream from the ladies, and a shout from Mr. Tupman. A large mass of ice disappeared; the water bubbled up over it; Mr. Pickwick’s hat, gloves and handkerchief were floating on the surface; and this was all of Mr. Pickwick that anybody could see. Dismay and anguish were depicted on every countenance, the males turned pale and the females fainted, Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle grasped each other by the hand, and gazed at the spot where their leader had gone down, with frenzied eagerness: while Mr. Tupman, by way of rendering the promptest assistance, and at the same time conveying to any persons who might be within hearing the clearest possible notion of the catastrophe, ran off across the country at his utmost speed, screaming ‘Fire!’ with all his might.” The first sentence syntactically represents three superlative slides and itself grows in excitement, speed and loudness. At the high point of repeated upward inflections there is a momentary pause before, on the level, is heard the acoupoeic brittle failure of the ice (p,t,k,k). The triplet structure repeats, again a crescendo from movement to sound, the same syntax serving for each of the ‘rush...scream...shout’ imitative elements. At this moment of high drama the pace is forcibly retarded by the more circumlocuitous and semicoloned sentence which follows, making us aware of the dissonance of merry writing and watery fate. Bathetically we wait as bubbles and haberdashery appear, ice disappears, and the magically vanished Mr. Pickwick is precisely not seen within his metonymic apparel. A pause registers the shock, and immediately humour begins to surge through a whole paragraphic sentence rich in the devices of exaggeration. In jokey alliterative stereotyping we see males pale and females faint, the text racing on to a futile hand holding and a fixed gaze which contrives to be frenzied. Finally these ludicrous and involuntary responses culminate in triumphant absurdity as the cry “Fire!”, with reading and action now in tandem, carries off another disappearance. The text brilliantly suggests a reading mostly imitating but sometimes playing off against the narrative. Only the final diminishing phrase perhaps invites the irony of a wry detachment with the close parallel to the opening phrase and the couplet “height ... might”. And if these overwrought comments don’t appeal, just read it with delight and extravagance before muting the latter to suit the listener’s ear. Example: Brookner An example of contrasting quality and reflective subtlety is provided by the very end of Anita Brookner’s novel A Closed Eye. Alone in middle age, Harriet has at this moment of closure a curious consolation in the image of her dead daughter Immy. This slight benediction depends upon an almost accidental occurrence, an image (the repeated “Immy’s face”) which echoes vividly in the emptiness. “That evening Harriet, standing at the window, saw the sun descend majestically into the lake. Turning, she surveyed the empty room. My life, she thought, an empty room. But she felt no pain, felt in fact the curious onset of some kind of release. Vividly, she caught sight of Immy’s face. She drew in a deep breath, laughed. There it was again, Immy’s face as it had always been. She laughed again, at the image of Immy’s laughing face. Sinking on to the sofa she let the tears rain down. Never again to lack for company. All will be as before, she thought, as she wept in gratitude. When my little girl was young.” The passage, with its repeating motifs, progresses through three phases - composure, crisis, consolation - in a plummeting abandonment all the more dramatic by its contrast to the quietness of tone. Analysis is required in several respects. First it should be said that this passage has to be understood as organically within the whole novel of which it is, in a sense, a microcosm: for example, the central metaphor of the desolate room has already occurred. Through this last paragraph sentence structure gradually dissolves into incompleteness (“Never ... When ...”) as time slips (“...will ... was ...”) back to stillness. Psychologically, the initial modality is predominantly active, objective and visual (the controlled “saw” and “surveyed” whilst standing, the deliberately contrasted absences of sunset and room). Into an uncertain, even paradoxical, transition comes suddenly Immy’s face. There is an auditory mirroring (both laugh) and Harriet yields up the present as the modality becomes predominantly passive, subjective and kinaesthetic (“sinking ... let ... wept” while lying). Another aspect is acou- and kine-poeic, concerning the speech sounds and the manner of their production within the mouth. For example, the shift in time sense is matched by an increasing proportion of long vowels (monophthongs as in “before, she thought”, diphthongs as in “tears rain down”). Similarly the more interior modality has its parallel in the way consonants are created further within the mouth (palatal and velar sounds as in “girl was young”). Sequence counting reveals a tendency for consonants to reoccur in an echoing fashion. Obvious examples are “All will be as before” (l, b) and “laughing face. Sinking” (f, ng): a graph of repetition frequency against separation distance suggests diminishing waves. The practical reader does not need such close examination and may well be helped more directly by dramatic improvisation to explore the vocal qualities of echoing loneliness in contrast to mother and child intimacy, of sombre competence compared to hysterical collapse. Only the merest vestige of these enlarged vocal discoveries will remain to illuminate the chosen reading. Voices and values There are national stereotypes, very imperfect notions, which go along, for example, with the English tending to hear French as a romantic (everyday sense!) language, German as authoritarian and so on. As sound systems languages no doubt have their inclinations. Entering another language is a new experience in various ways. Importantly there are changed concepts and different priorities within a culture. For some students whose native speech is fixed by social markers of accent or vocabulary according to a childhood from which they have moved on, a new language can be liberating. Some teachers incline to a logical systematic approach to language study. They are aware of a grammatical structure into which vocabulary fits. It is rather as though one teaches first a shape of tank and then pours in words to fill it (and with certain artificial languages - Esperanto or movement notation or a mathematical equation perhaps – this may be fully adequate). Others (rather as this article emphasises) think of language more as a medium of interpersonal transactions in which the formulae of simple communications expand and diversify developmentally. There are echoes here of old disputes, of ‘top down versus bottom up’, of a simple-minded Chomsky v. Skinner acrimony as though truth had to lie wholly within one camp. We might reasonably think body, behaviour and context are all relevant to achievement, just as the necessary organs require genes that are themselves selected by functional outcomes within the opportunities of life. Part of the merit of having a multiplicity of ways of looking at language is that each generates ideas for teaching. There are many easy devices that can add colour and rememberable identity to lesson content. Those who train memory often use associated images and narratives to strengthen recall (the mentalist Derren Brown is splendid on this). Acting out these aids comes close to games such as charades. A teacher who took in a length of rope and gave marks for every verb demonstrated (stretch, knot, skip etc.) would certainly tie up some vocabulary and foster swinging into action. One obstacle to be overcome in reading aloud is the notorious spelling of English. But this too can be used to generate interest. ‘Plough through thorough thoughts though roughly coughing’ is an accomplishment of sorts. If set the task of how the spoken ‘fish and fowl’ could be written, a prize-winner (inspired by Shaw) might propose ‘ghoti oughgn phoule’ for example. Working backwards, what words contain these bizarre spellings of phonemes? Emphasising the saying itself makes clear the speech action. Phonetic exercises (such as my preferred sequence for the English long vowels ‘moo -maw - mah - mer - mee’ which follows an orderly path of tongue position through the mouth) train the essential basic structure with which words then create themselves. Such imitative features as acoupoeia and the neglected kinepoeia can give learners a 'handle’ on words and, more fundamentally, adjust their saying toward the language generally. This approach does accept elements of activity that are sometimes restricted to performance skills (and outstanding theatre speech directors such as Cicely Berry illuminate much of what I have been suggesting). Teachers will need to adjust their levels of expectation to the attitudes and culture of their students. For example I have taught in two places where one had to go slowly - Brunei, dominated by a Malay Islamic culture inclined to conformity, and (utterly different in other ways) northern Sweden where being middling is more comfortable than standing out. An important influence for me is the humanist tradition, both in the literal sense of my having humanist beliefs and, more relevantly, through psychology. Much of learning will be taken over by the student if encouragement is given and individual involvement elicited. The communication of personal experience - whether a memory from childhood or of a blizzard, a major transition or a nostalgic moment – has a richness and human value that any educational context should enable. A ‘Moving Words’ teaching programme functions with precisely this emphasis. Mastering the specifics of traditional ‘knowledge that’ then follows with interest rather than pain. The other influence for me has been from aesthetics and the idea that appreciating works of art is rather like getting to know persons, their manner, expression and character: but that idea is too complicated to develop here and is not essential to practice. Several rewards follow from appropriate reading aloud, particularly familiarisation with native speech patterns and characteristic outlooks. We can directly teach such matters as articulation and sentence structures but ultimately what is needed is a kind of empathy, an experience of matching with, that takes the learning beyond skill. As English extends within the world its merits of quality beyond the merely instrumental become more important. Primarily, texts have to be understood, for that is the essence of literacy. But - if students are to become self-motivated in the long term - words are also to be enjoyed. Giving voice to the expressive features of a text enriches the speaker’s vitality in life generally. If the vehicle for this is a useful new language, so much the better. References Berry, Cicely, (2001) Text in Action, Virgin Brown, Derren, (2007) Tricks of the Mind, Transworld Laban, Rudolf, (1988) Mastery of Movement, Northcote Palmer, Sue, (2007) Toxic Childhood, Orion Salter, Edwin, Articles: Group Speech & Language Learning in Spoken English 2,30.97; Fulfilment in LifeLong Learning in Europe 3.97; Expressive Phonetics in Modern English Teacher, 2,7.98; Creativity, Text and Individual in Drama (Oslo) .98; Moving Words in Movement. & Dance Qtly 1,17.98; Thematic Language Methods in Kreativ Ped. 36.98 (in Swedish); Correcting Errors in English Teaching professional, 47.06 & 48.07; Breath, Voice, Speech in Positive Health 135.07; Education and Evidence in The Freethinker 128.08. The Pronunciation course can be viewed here. The Drama Course can be viewed here.
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