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Global

Cutting Room Floor

One slice of the book that’s getting cut:

Each period had its own standards for what made a good speaker. The linguist Konrad Kuiper, who studied the speech styles of auctioneers and sportscasters in Smooth Talkers, defines the good speaker according to his or her connection to their communities. People “who are the best speakers, the most fluent, the most impressive, the ones held in highest regard,” Kuiper wrote, “are those who command a wide range of language resources and use them creatively.” Good speakers master the language their community gives them to use. If the community tells jokes, they tell jokes. If the community quotes holy texts, they quote holy texts. And when the community hears their language and their history reflected in the speakers’ and talkers’ choices, they accept them. The people who speak well are the ones who have crystallized, in words, what it means to belong to that group of people in that place and time.

I like Kuiper’s definition because it can be applied to other historical periods, even other cultures, and to kinds of verbal art, like story-telling or preaching, not just public speaking. It just as effectively characterizes the good talker, the raconteur, the person who entertains you at the bar and the dinner table. Along with the cooked traditions of public speaking (such as the Toastmasters) come raw ones: the spontaneous, unrehearsed verbal displays by Quakers, speakers in tongues, Beat poets, rappers, and radio talk show hosts. This definition can be applied to conversations, too. In Western societies, for instance, people usually operate by the principle that you should contribute just the right amount of information to a conversation. No more, no less.

So why is it getting cut?

1. The explanation wasn’t needed.

2. It was a distraction from the narrative.

3. To be honest, I was never entirely comfortable with the rule-bound conception of the good speaker that Kuiper’s definition implies, at the same time it offers ambiguity: what does “creatively” mean, exactly? On the other hand, I do like the way it’s bigger than rhetoric’s usual fetish for the audience — in rhetorical terms, pathos is usually conceived as giving the audience what they want, whereas Kuiper’s definition includes what is wantable, that is, what is available to want.

OK, so this is making me think these paragraphs shouldn’t go. After all, I included it int he first place because I wanted another to to define the “good speaker” in a way that was a) not focused on delivery (eg., glibness) b) rooted in/trapped in situation. It succedds with both of those…

I’m officially not convinced. But I’m posting this anyway.