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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Daily Show -- and You

     I was watching the Daily Show and – as usual – John  Stewart’s crew was making fun of news announcers.  I am not talking about TV voice-over artists – who do TV commercials and the like –nor about documentary narrators – just that CNN Bimbo or the Fox News manikin who stares robotically at the camera and recites from the teleprompterl.

      It’s fun -- to make fun of such people – especially recently – they dress alike, look alike – and most important of all (to me, as a “voice”) they talk alike 


      We say, “Who really talks like this?”

      But then the question arises?  Why do we take CNN or Fox News people et al as “natural”?

      Why aren’t there TV talking heads who talk like people?

     Well, you say, because most people just don’t talk that clearly. Your average Joe or Joe-Anne mumbles. And announcers have to be clear, so we can get the nitty gritty of the lies and distortions we call news. Granted--but it aint that simple. If only because it is obviously possible to be both clear and natural. Which brings us to the mechanics of articulation, specifically intonation.  

    (Modern) English intonation – despite what Japanese “ei-kaiwa” books like to say -- has four degrees of stress, pitch, and juncture –  the so-called “suprasegmentals” --accompanied by euphonic changes such as the lengthening of vowels and the addition of semi-vowels, elision and reduction.  In this respect, English prosody is much more complex than, say, Japanese which is works with two degrees of everything. 
TV announcers characteristically simplify intonation. 

    Listen carefully and you will hear a mostly binary suprasegmental system.  The movements of the mouth and its articulatory organs are also simplified.  This makes it physically  easier to read without mistakes and with maximum intelligibility.  It also robs the voice of emotion.  No mistakes. No feeling.  Smooth, authoritative delivery.    Underlying everything– this is objective; it is pure information ; it is the truth.
 So, John Stewart’s  “fake news” announcers can say the craziest things – but using standard delivery.  That’s how the comedy works.   It makes us laugh – but then  the whole notion of the “objectivity” of news is laughable.

   If you want someone to really understand you – talk with feeling, use the full potential of the language – be natural. 

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