Reading aloud: The role of the reader and the conception of ‘self'

Wichmann, Anne (2021) Reading aloud: The role of the reader and the conception of ‘self'. Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, 6 (1). pp. 75-89. ISSN 2057-0341

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In this article I examine the prosody associated with different ways of reading aloud, in particular the speaker’s exploitation of pitch range, and I consider the way in which different styles project different speaking roles and with them different conceptions of self. I have chosen four different speaking styles: storytelling, newsreading, prayer and poetry-reading. They represent different degrees of markedness and are the styles that are referenced most frequently in a wide range of sources, allowing a comparison and synthesis of the different characterizations they contain. The sources from which I draw my evidence include impressionistic descriptions of ‘delivery’ in classical writings on rhetoric, and instructions in nineteenth- and twentieth-century manuals for recitation, public speaking and elocution training. All these accounts are aimed at improving the performance of individual speakers, but I also draw on more recent studies of intonation, which are motivated largely by potential applications in speech technology – speech recognition and speech synthesis. They combine qualitative and quantitative accounts based on acoustic analysis and include, for example, research on intonation and emotion and on the prosodic parameters of charismatic speech. Stylistic variation has traditionally been understood as variation according to situational context or setting, as is evident in the choice of styles for this article. An alternative view discussed here is Goffman’s notion of ‘participant roles’, important in socio-pragmatics, which relates ways of speaking to whether the speaker is acting for themselves or, for example, as a spokesperson, as in reading the news. Finally, in order to account for the overlap of prosodic features in ostensibly very different settings, such as poetry-reading and liturgy, I propose a unifying factor underlying the different styles, based on degrees of subjectivity and objectivity in the voice. I conclude that speakers respond not to a physical setting but to the kind of ‘self’ they wish to project.

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