Number one for English language teachers

soft speech

Posted in: Vocabulary | Vocabulary

Wed, 13 May 2009 8:15 pm

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Frank

Posts: 41

Thu, 28 May 2009 10:05 am

I think it just means speaking quietly, whispering.
By extension I suppose that it can also refer to occasions when you would speak quietly - telling a secret - to child - to a lover etc.

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Perry Walsh

Posts: 23

Wed, 30 Dec 2009 6:35 am

I understand soft speech to be a less direct manner of communication. If we think of negotiating for instance, say asking an employer for time off. We could say, I want some time off, or we could soften the request by saying, AAAh excuse me, are you free to speak now, .... I was wondering if I could....
Our choice of words, phrases can make our requests seem more polite, albeit somewhat less direct, and some would argue more likely to be successful.
There would be many contexts in which a more euphemistic word or phrase would connote a softer, more genteel, more appropriate register.
I guess, the opposite of soft speech would be heheh hard, therefore, more abrupt, direct, and for some less polite.
But it all depends on the people talking, their culutural norms, setting, and overall context.
I would look at soft speech in relation to other possible utterancces or written words to convey something.
In other words, take several words, and place them on a continuum from softer to stronger, or weaker to stronger and then analyse the resultant nuances in meaning.
Interestingly, some languages like German and Polish ( i hope i am right) are more direct in their language choices. For example, in inviting someone to sit down, ( i have heard) will simply say "Sit down". Whereas, in English we would tend to use the whimperative, for instance, "Would you like to take a seat?".
In making requests too, ( i was taught) that if you say to someone from Germany say at a dinner table, Can you pass the salt, they might take offence or think it odd, and think well of course i can pass the salt, i am not stupid. Whereas, could, can etc would soften the request for say, English speakers.
One of my old lecturers from World Englishes related the story of how when he went to dinner at a Polish person's place they invited him to have a drink, buy simply saying, 'drink'.
I guess too softer speech would appear in romantic genres (why not), and poetry, and so on, especially where mood is being created.
My old lecturer also told the class of the time he was in Hong Kong. A junior policeman who wanted to request time off from his grumpy superior officer was slow to make his request. This softer if you like inductive style of making a request, and i guess less direct approach made the western officer even more grumpy. The Chinese request pattern seemed dishonest to the Western officer, who lamented, yes out with it man, what do you want, i am busy. Well, I was wondering...um aaah, (hesitations), my mother is sick and ... and the request came last.
So, i guess the use of soft language, extends beyond words, sentences, and extends to the order of discourse, and cultural considerations.
As my lecturer from world englishes and talking across cultures explained, "what is normal in one culture may not be normal in another culture" .
And as i the examples above suggest, softer language, although intended to be more polite, and less direct, may be perceived differently.
Modals, are often used to soften language use, too. For example, which is more polite, May/Might/Could/Can - I come in.
And in everyday salutations we often hear, please, thankyou/thanks a lot and even small talk to break the ice to soften social encounters.
And i guess we could consider body language, intonation, word and sentence stress, and others as means of softening language.
I guess too, even the use of passive voice over active voice would be another example, of softening language.
No doubt there are countless other ways to "soften speech" but hopefully this will begin the discussion.
Cheers Perry

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