Did you ever hear someone speak who sounded as though he was trying to talk through a mouthful of pebbles? Where there is a serious speech impediment affecting the speech mechanism the problem is serious indeed there may be no easy solution. But often muffled, mumbled, or sloppy speech may be the result of faulty speech habits.
According to Bernard P. McCabe, Jr., in his book Communicative Voice and Articulation (p. 79), "Articulation is the way to clarity in speaking. The key to articulation is accurate production and correct use of consonants. . . .Without consonants, speech would probably resemble a howl with meaning dependent upon variations in quality of sound. Fortunately, such a situation need not exist. With the consonant, articulation and speech become more efficient."
Speech will not be clear unless the sounds called consonants are articulated properly. The consonants are generally arranged into four groups:
Plosive: as the (p) in poise; (b) in boss; (t) in tame; (d) in dance; (c) in cat; (g) in game; (ch) in check; (j) in just or (g) in magic
Fricative: as the (f) in fun; (v) in vain; (th) in think; (s) in sip; (z) in zippy; (sh) in should; (s) in vision; (g) in garage; or (h) in how
Nasal: as the (m) in make; (n) in noise; or (ng) in youngster
Glide: as the (wh) in white; (w) in wonder; (r) in road; (y) in you; (i) in opinion; or (l) in lip
It can be readily seen that improper articulation of any of these sounds will make one's speech difficult to understand. How articulate are you in producing the sounds of speech the sounds of the consonants?
Three of the most common problems are:
1. The final "t" as in went. The "t" is silent (not articulated) and the result is "wen." Or as in can't the word becomes "can" (which could be a costly error).
2. The final "ng" as in going; omit it and the word becomes "goin." Or as in thinking, and the word becomes "thinkin."
3. The initial "th" as in them. The "th" becomes a "d" and the word becomes "dem" or in the case of those it becomes "dose."
Breaking a bad habit is never easy; it takes patience and work. So it is in breaking poor speech habits. Fortunately, help is available. A good book like McCabe's contains many suggestions and exercises whereby poor articulation can be corrected. If you do not speak clearly because of poor articulation, you can overcome the defect. Record your speech and then listen to yourself. If you don't like what you hear, do something about it. Practice until you speak clearly and distinctly.
Care should be taken to correct defects. Don't go to the other extreme and articulate over precisely. It is annoying and sometimes humorous to listen to someone who over articulates the t's, d's, or p's.
The counsel in Gospel Workers, (p. 91): "Ministers and teachers should discipline themselves to articulate clearly and distinctly, allowing the full sound to every word." The same applies to the church elder as preacher and spokesperson for God. Proper breathing, pitch, and articulation these three factors are to be considered when striving for clarity in preaching.
Along with making what we say clear, we are concerned that what we say makes sense. This is not to say that we can take all mystery from the gospel. There are some things we will never fully comprehend intellectually. But we need not multiply confusion by being incoherent when there is no reason for incoherence. The fact is, we should diligently study so that we may make the profound simple, that we may communicate the deep things of God so that all can say, "we see," when the truth can indeed be "seen." In such a study we will come to grips with the fundamental principles that make for good communication in preaching.
At the time of this writing, Steven Vitrano was a professor at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Presently he lives in Auburn, California.