Her Voice Was Ever Soft

13 Jun

“Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.”  William Shakespeare.

This quotation was gospel in my childhood and my maternal grandmother was an understated, living example of Will’s words.  I remember being told that she took elocution lessons so that she wouldn’t drop her “r’s”,  for she grew up in Reconstruction Virginia, having been born in 1863.  This precept was further enforced by the hours she spent reading aloud to her granddaughters who listened avidly, noting when she found something funny and her mouth would curve into a smile and her voice had difficulty in  repressing laughter.

I was reminded of this when I boarded a #3 Jackson bus recently and sat down on one of the parallel seats near the driver, next to a blond young woman on her cell phone, mouth open, forehead wrinkled, mouthing phrases in a flat tight tone with strong nasal overlays, as if the breath was not connecting with the diaphragm or the abdomen.  “It needs to be settled between Joe and I,” she mentioned, with her head forward and torso curved.  “I’m on the bus and I’ll call you back later.”  I’ve forgotten what the specifics were of her upscale clothing.  It reminded me of my gradual awareness of the changes, not only in grammar, but vocal delivery that I have noticed in women whose clothing bespeaks professional or affluent  economic status.

The nasal tones have become more frequent and the edge to the voice more pronounced.  Within minutes at the #1 California bus stop at  Sacramento and Fillmore, I heard a young woman responding to the information that a young man was returning to school.  Her pronunciation of that institution had nothing of the double “oo” sound but came out like “schaool,”  almost like a cat’s meow.  “Gonna”, of course, has replaced “going to.”

Admittedly, the emphasis on correct speech in my childhood might be considered excessive.  I can remember my grandmother remarking that my father left out “h’s” when he pronounced “wheat” as “weat.”  The family emphasis on appearance included the voice as well as clean blouses and polished shoes.  And enthusiasm didn’t need to sound like a shrike delivered like an imitation of a fire siren, either, that I have heard on some pledge episodes over KQED.

It’s all pretty amazing.  Views like mine clearly betray the generation gap.


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