Главная страница «Первого сентября»Главная страница журнала «Английский язык»Содержание №3/2005


Larissa MashkovaTopical Issues:

– Effective Communication Through Speech in Various Situations for Different Purposes;
– Rhetoric: Theory and Practice;
– Using Linguistic Potential to its Best Effect;
– Learning from Great Orators;
– Prepared and Impromptu Speeches

Planned Events:

– Public Speaking Competitions and Contests;
– People of Competence;
– Helping Students and Educators in their needs;
– Stage Productions;
– Compiling a Collection of Ever-Best Speeches;
– Psychological Training;
– Voice Production Classes

The Coordinator of Phonetics and the Art of Speaking Section – Larisa Mashkova: melta@1september.ru

The Art of Speaking:

Clarifying Concepts and Goals

The art of speaking has existed since time immemorial. It flourished in ancient Greece and Rome where it also received its thorough theoretical grounds. In fact, the image of “the cradle of mankind” is still associated in our minds with an orator addressing his audience (as distinct, for instance, from the Middle Ages, represented by a monk bending over his writing in his cell in splendid isolation...).

From the very outset it is essential to clarify at least some of the terms, even though they practically never seem to lay themselves easily to clarifying. The art of speaking corresponds largely to rhetoric and oratory (from the Greek “rhetorike” and Latin “oratoria”). However, in modern English the words rhetoric and oratory have acquired additional evaluative overtones. Thus, Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners tells us that oratory, apart from being “the skill for making effective and impressive public speeches”, is “complicated formal language”. Similarly, “the art of using language in a way that is effective or influences people” is given as the second meaning of “rhetoric”, the first one being “the style of speaking or writing that is intended to impress people but is not honest”.

Thus, according to Macmillan Dictionary, not only is the word rhetoric used predominantly with pejorative connotation, but it is extended to writing as well. We can not attempt to analyse all corresponding entries of all existing dictionaries here and now (this might have been a good idea, though); however, we have to admit that Macmillan Dictionary is the first major dictionary of the XXI century and is based not so much on written English as on spoken English. Among the written genres, the linguistic domain of journalism obviously prevails, the following examples testifying to this more than clearly: angry nationalist rhetoric, anti-American rhetoric, the rhetoric of freedom/reform/law and order; empty/mere rhetoric, etc.

In spite of too much “rhetoric”, however, we do use the term “rhetoric” in its proper, original sense, thus making it synonymous to the “art of speaking” (the latter being descriptive, rather than nominative, from a terminological point of view). As for the term “oratory”, we would not venture to call it altogether obsolete; however, it is not so frequently used nowadays, and that is deplorable since the term “oratory” appears to be clear, distinct and what might be called, “user-friendly”. We come across it in literature a lot. Here is what Lord Chesterfield, among other things, wrote about “oratory” in the letter addressed to his son: ”The business of Oratory, as I have told you before, is to persuade people; and you easily feel that to please people is a great step towards persuading them. You must then, consequently, be sensible how advantageous it is for a man who speaks in public, whether it be in Parliament, or in the pulpit, or at the bar [that is in the courts of law], to please hearers so much, as to gain their attention; which he can never do without the help of Oratory”.

Thus, Oratory, being a “pleasant” and “solemn-sounding” term – if we may put it so – is nevertherless confined to the sphere of public speaking (which actually is the sphere of our primary concern), whereas both art of speaking and rhetoric are divided into public speaking and interpersonal speech communication, i.e. the art of persuading your partner in a dialogue, the art to achieve a concrete communicative goal in direct interpersonal communication – e.g. in negotiating. As we can see, terminologically the meaning of oratory is obviously narrower; yet again it is necessary to point out the inner strength and beauty of the term – though, perhaps, a perfect term should be 100% neutral? We do believe, however, that for the majority of our readers it will be hard to regard perfect terminology in this sphere as being absolutely devoid of all connotations – simply because the art of speaking presupposes powerful emotional impact over the audience. And then it is an art, not a nauka! In Russian the situation is further complicated by the fact that on a parallel with oratorskoye iskusstvo, there exists rhitorika which is usually described as nauka!

Indeed, Lord Chesterfield in the above-mentioned statement touches upon certain very important aspects of speaking, namely – persuading people and pleasing them, or, rather, persuading through pleasing. This brings us to the issue of functions of public speaking, on the one hand, and laws of rhetoric, on the other.

As for functions of public speaking, they could, perhaps, be described as:

1) informational;
2) persuading;
3) aesthetic;
4) social-communicative;
5) educating... (the list is left open for suggestions).

The laws of rhetoric include:

1) the law of harmonising dialogue (закон гармонизирующего диалога). In other words, effective speech communication is only made possible through dialogue-like interaction of speech event participants;
2) the law of advancing towards the pre-set communicative goal, when both a communicator (an orator) and a recipient (an audience) steadily move to the previously designated aim;
3) the law of emotional colouring of speech. The speaker is supposed to feel what he talks about with all his heart and soul; he emotionally suffers, as it were.
4) the law of bestowing pleasure. The speaker should aim at pleasing his audience and making communication as rewarding as possible.

A brief commentary regarding the last statement is obviously called for. Lord Chesterfield was right: the audience needs to be pleased. And also to be liked, appreciated, respected... And to be kept constantly inspired and enthusiastic! As experience shows, to satisfy this subtle unconscious desire of the audience – to be kept enthusiastic – the speaker is supposed to convey enthusiasm himself. And for that purpose he has to be sincere and to know – only but too well – what he is talking about and why he is talking.

Another question that might crop up is whether the speaker needs to flatter his audience (some speakers start almost to flirt with their audiences!). And then – where is the pleasure actually derived from? Perhaps, it is derived from a combination of different factors, such as: a topic (a proper, well-chosen topic, the one that appeals to the audience); the speaker’s behaviour (friendly, respectful); the speaker’s voice (well-educated, pleasant); diction (clear); pronunciation (proper); body language (appropriate); ... Psychological factors should also be taken into account; thus, it is most important for the audience to feel safe (although it is not very easy to define the constituents of safety).

We have mentioned psychology; in fact, rhetoric is closely connected with numerous branches of knowledge, among them: philosophy (gnoseology, theory of cognition, laws of dialectics), pedagogy, philology and linguistics, culture studies, theory of communication, ethics, aesthetics, sociology...

For us, teachers, the pragmatic aspect of the art of speaking undoubtedly comes to the fore. Despite all existing difficulties (and even the seeming impossibility) we have to learn to teach rhetoric and to educate future orators. In other words, we need to turn an art into a skill, especially now that the importance of persuading people in the modern world has been enhanced – due to the threat of terrorism, globalisation and the utmost necessity for the protection of our environment and – more generally – LIFE on our fragile, solitary planet...

By Larissa Mashkova