Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Questions in the air?

Have you a moment for some quiet pondering? This is something that's been niggling me over a period of months - it could even be years. But let's start by asking you a question.
At the end of a sentence, when the statement is one of uncontrovertible fact, would you expect the speaker's voice to go up or down?

Think about it . . .

Well . . . ? Did you say 'down'?

I would have said 'down'. There was once no doubt in my mind that the voice, except when offering a question, or a point that is debatable, comes down to rest at a full stop. There's something comforting and reassuring in that sense of coming to rest. After all, the voice is not merely a means of conveying information. The tone of the voice has a message of its own, it can add authority and reassurance to a statement. All's well in a world when a full stop is endorsed by a voice at rest.

But, have you noticed? Everything is changing. The newsreaders on Radio 4 were the last to hold out, then, this morning, capitulation took place. In common with what seems to be the rest of the English-speaking world, many of them are now raising their voices at the end of a perfectly straightforward sentence.

It could be said that I am being overtly pedantic. Fashions change . . . I should move with the times.
True, it may seem like that, but there's far more to this than a mere vocal whim. When the voice makes an upward inflection it indicates doubt, or a general sense of uncertainty. It makes the listener wonder whether he's being offered a fact or a question. An upward lilt is restless and incomplete. It leaves you waiting for more . . . an unvoiced question is hanging in the air.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this switch in inflection, but I equate it with the general sense of unease and doubt in our modern world. Is it indicative of how we are all feeling . . .? Are we uncertain . . . indecisive . . . confused . . . unwilling, or unable, to allow our voices to descend into certainty? Many of the certainties of the past have been put to the test, a large number have been found wanting. Is it this that leaves us with such a profound sense of uncertainty that it resonates in our voices?

We all need questions, questions enable us to grow . . . we need doubt, without it we can never find our own truths . . . but we also need rest. We need a place of stillness and certainty from which to raise those questions and doubts. We need somewhere inside us to provide stability and reassurance, a place of strength that is echoed in the voice.
Voices have so much more to offer than the words they use.

Will you join me in a crusade to bring back the reassuring, stabilising downward inflection?
Who knows, it could be an invaluable asset at international summits!