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Elocution

From Academic Kids

Elocution is proper speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone. An elocutionist, one who studies elocution, may determine a person's geographic or cultural origin by his or her speaking manner.

The play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw and its musical adaptation My Fair Lady, feature an elocutionist, Professor Henry Higgins, who makes a bet that he can transform a poor, lower class cockney flower girl into an accepted member of upper class society by teaching her the appropriate manner of speaking and behaving.

In Western classical rhetoric, one of the five core disciplines was pronuntiatio, which was the art of delivering speeches. Orators were trained not only on proper diction, but on the proper use of gestures, stance, and dress. (Another area of rhetoric, elocutio had nothing to do with elocution; rather it concerned the style of writing proper to the discourse.)

Elocution was a movement that can be traced to the late eighteenth century. One of its important figures was Thomas Sheridan, actor and father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. His lectures on elocution were collected in Lectures on Elocution (1762), and his Lectures on Reading (1775) provided directions for marking and reading aloud passages from literature. Another actor, John Walker, published his two-volume Elements of Elocution in 1781, which provided detailed instruction on voice control, gestures, pronunciation, and emphasis.

With the publication of these works and similar ones, elocution gained wider public interest. While training on proper speaking had been an important part of private education for many centuries, the rise in the nineteenth century of a middle class in Western countries (and the corresponding rise of public education) led to great interest in the teaching of elocution, and it became a staple of the school curriculum.

An example of this can be seen in the Table of Contents of McGuffey's New Sixth Eclectic Reader of 1857 :

Principles of Elocution
I. Articulation
II. Inflections
III. Accent and Emphasis
IV. Instructions for Reading Verse
V. The Voice
VI. Gesture
New Sixth Reader. Exercises in Articulation
Exercise I. -- The Grotto of Antiparos
Exercise II. -- The Thunder Storm
Exercise III. -- Description of a Storm
IV. Hymn to the Night-Wind
V. -- The Cataract of Lodore
On Inflection
VI. -- Industry Necessary for the Orator
VII. -- The Old House Clock [etc.]


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