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Chapter IV. 3. TEMPO OF SPEECH




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By speech tempo we mean the relative speed of utterance which is measured by the rate of syllable succession and the number and duration of pauses in a sentence. The average rate of delivery may contain from about two to four syllables per second for slow speech, from about three to six syllables for normal speech, and from about five to nine syllables for fast speech.

Every speaker has a norm which characterizes his usual individual style of utterance. Some people speak more quickly, some more slowly; some people use. more variations of tempo than others. Tempo is a feature, which like loudness can be varied from time to time by the individual speaker.

The rate of speaking varies constantly. When two strongly stressed syllables occur close together, it is slower; when they are separated by unstressed syllables the speed is faster. The speed of utterance becomes slower or faster according to the number of unstressed syllables between the stressed ones.

Differences of rate are used to help the listener to differentiate the more important (slow rate) and the less important (fast rate) parts of the utterances,

e.g. I want you to understand that it is very important.

We slow the last part of the sentence down and lengthen out the syllables to get a stronger impression than if we say it at normal speed. An increase in the speed of the utterance may show it is less important,

e.g. His own plan, he now saw, would fall through.

Rate also performs emotionaland attitudinal functions. It varies according to the emotional state of the speaker and the attitude conveyed.

Fast rate, for instance, may be associated with anger, scolding, etc.,

e.g. Where's the hammer? What did you do with the hammer? Great heaven! Seven of you,

'gaping round there, and you don't know what I 'did with the hammer. (Jerome K.

Jerome. "Three Men in a Boat")

Slower than normal rate may be associated with anger, doubt, blame, accusation, etc.,

e.g. Mrs. Warren (passionately): What's the use of my going to bed? Do you think I

could sleep?

Voice: 'Why not? I shall.

Mrs. Warren: You! You've no heart. (B. Shaw. "Mrs. Warren's Profession")

Variations of rate of speech and pausation are closely connected with different phonetic styles, shades of meaning and the structure of the intonation group.



Rate is varied by the speaker in accordance with the situation in which he is involved. The speaker should always choose the proper rate suitable for the occasion, if he wants to be clearly understood. A teacher will speak to a group of beginners learning English at a slower rate than when he speaks to a native speaker. Rate should be adapted to the content of the ideas expressed and the phonetic style. It should always be slow enough to attract the attention of the listeners and at the same time be rapid enough to sustain interest.

By pause we generally mean an act of stopping in the flow of speech. jn speaking or reading aloud, we make pauses from time to time. These pauses break our speech or texts into paragraphs, sentences, intonation groups. In English there are three main degrees of pauses: unit pause (one-unit), double (two-unit) and treble (three-unit) pause. The length of pauses is relative and is correlated with the rate of speech and rhythmicality norms of an individual.

The unit pause is the interval of an individual's rhythm cycle from one syllable to the next, within a constant rate. It is used to separate intonation groups,



e.g. I'd rather stay at home to-night, ∣ unless I feel better.

The double pause is approximately twice as long as the unit pause, it is used to separate sentences,

e.g. Good afternoon, Mrs. White.|| How are you?|| Very well indeed, thank you.||

The treble pause, which is about three times longer than the unit pause, is used to separate paragraphs.

In cases when the presence of a short pause is almost impossible to determine a wavy vertical line is used. There may be in fact no stop of phonation. The effect of pausation is due to the interval in pitch at the intonation group junction,

e.g. So they sat by the firelight, in the silence,∣ one on each side of the hearth.||

(J. Galsworthy. "The Man of Property")

A short interval of silence, an intermission arising from doubt or uncertainty, a hesitation caused by different emotions, forgetfulness, one's wish to think over what to say next is called a hesitation pause. It is a mere stop of phonation, or it may be filled with so-called temporizers (hesitation fillers) such as: you see, you know, I mean, I mean to say, so to speak, well, etc.. Very common hesitation fillers are also: umn, ah, eh, erm. er,

e.g. You can find him, I think, in the library. What a shame, poor darling: I'll - er - see if

I can buy another pair for you.


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