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intonation stress emphasis cartoon

Food For Thought

Intonation. It's so important in communication. I saw it once described as an attitude and emotion sandwich. They go well together. It makes it easier for the listener to swallow and to understand what's being said.

So what about stress? Stress on words I mean. This is emphasis on syllables that you should sprinkle carefully according to your meaning. You don't want to overcook what you're saying now do you? But if you pepper your sentences with intonation and stress in all the wrong places you can make a right mouthful of it.

Rather like what Eric Morecambe famously said to Andre Previn. You remember: I'm playing all the right notes - but not necessarily in the right order.

You're unlikely to get it wrong if you're talking to a friend. Because then you're thinking about what you're saying and it almost becomes a natural process. It's a simple recipe but so often neglected by newsreaders, public speakers and presenters.

Stick a microphone in front of people and words can be as liberally distributed as vinegar on fish and chips. It results in meaning going all over the place or plaice if it's the vinegar.

There was a newsreader on the radio the other day

I won't embarrass her by name. Let's just call her Rebecca. I'd deliberately tuned in to hear the news and sport headlines.
 
Each story that she read out rolled into the next one like dodgem cars at the fairground. No gaps, pauses or change of emphasis.
 
It made for a bumpy ride for us listeners. To put it simply you couldn't follow what she was saying.

Her intonation and stress were just out of sync. She was either over familiar with the story, having read it several times that day or more likely she didn't understand what she was saying.

Neither reason is acceptable

Every broadcast must be delivered as if it were the first time the audience is hearing it. The reading should be fresh, clear and easy on the ear. It has nothing to do with accents either. But it has everything to do with thinking about what you're saying.

Rehearsal would help

So would playing back a recording of the bulletin to analyse how you're doing. I have nothing against a modern style with accompanying background jingles or music. That all adds to the tone. But the orchestra leader, the newsreader, must conduct his or her bulletin in a way that doesn't force the listener to stop listening whilst we try to make sense of what we've just heard.

OK. That's it. Now here's the weather forecast.

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