Accent

Tone of voice, used to smuggle fraud past the listener without arousing suspicion.

For Aristotle, this could be a significant source of error because, in classical Greek, what a word means often depends on how it is accented. With some minor exceptions, this does not apply in English, yet the accent problem does arise in another sense not intended by Aristotle: the effect that accented words and tone of voice can have on the meaning of a sentence.A7

For example, an argument can be reinforced by a tone of weary boredom, implying that the argument is already settled, and that one’s opponents are simply as wrong now as they have ever been, or that the matter is too self-evident to be worth spelling out and you would have to be mad to question it. Anger or bright cheerfulness can also make it seem absurd or offensive to disagree, and emphasis can change the meaning. “We will depend on technology” conveys that technology is going to solve our problems. “We will depend on technology” conveys that technology will of course have a part to play but this is by no means enough. “We will depend on technology” (with no accent at all) could be saying anything, including: “I am not going to abandon the usual line that technology will get us out of this problem, but I don’t think we have a chance, whatever we do.” “I was tempted to have another glass of wine” means you didn’t have one; “I was tempted to have another glass of wine” means you did.A8

More generally, the written report of a speech can be misleading unless it uses italics to show where the emphasis lies in an ambiguous sentence. Deadpan delivery is a warning that the official is not going to be thrown off course by ridicule or by a sense of proportion. Skilful use of accent can allow you to tell lies without speaking an untrue word.

 

Related entries:

Implicature, Equivocation.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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