It’s not quite clear to the writer, when good manners stepped in to close the nation’s teeth, but it probably occurred some time in the late 1920’s.
Irish Great Talkers – But Mumblers, Too?
Once upon a time the Irish were a nation of great talkers. But nowadays, it seems, they’ve become mumblers. That’s the opinion of a learned English professor whose speciality is speech training. “They have beautiful, warm tones,” said Professor James Dodding from Kent, England. "But they tend to mumble and speak to themselves through clenched teeth.” A columnist in an Irish national newspaper reporting these facts said things had reached such a pitch, that the good professor got lost in Dublin recently and was unable to understand the directions given to him.
The professor’s explanation of the reason behind the clenched teeth behavior might mystify some people, but it’s quite acceptable to most Irishmen. “Perhaps it is because the Irish are so well-mannered,” he said, “they appear almost afraid to offend the listener by speaking out properly.” It was not always so in Ireland. Down through the centuries, Ireland’s political life was studded with a dazzling array of orators whose sonorous flamboyance was the envy of the English Parliament. Public speaking was assidously studied and perfected as a necessary vehicle for success in a political career and the pungency and wit of the drawing room conversationalists became a byword in the capitals of the world. It’s not quite clear when good manners stepped in to close the nation’s teeth, but it probably occurred some time during the past 40 years. A visit to the Irish Parliament, where 144 deputies debate the nation’s affairs, would tend to substantiate the professor’s criticism.
The deputy, who speaks coherently and with clarity, has become the exception. The majority conduct their discussions in a mystifying medley of sound made no less confusing by the recently-installed amplification system. There is evidence, however, the Irish are beginning to realize the importance of what they have lost. A highly qualified graduate from a London University has been appointed teacher of communications and speech training at the Dublin Vocational Educational Center—the first full time permanent appointment of its kind. Nothing, however, has yet been done to tackle the problem at its logical base in the primary and secondary schools. Speech education and training in most of these establishments still consists of the off half-hour-a-week elocution class, by a female Henry Higgins. But at the moment, various teacher organizations are pressing for a speech training program in all schools, that will turn out a generation of clear speakers and able debaters. Until they succeed, better bring a good street directory when you visit Dublin. – By Donal O’Higgans, Dublin (UPl), 1968
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