Broadly speaking, the word “elocution” refers to one’s manner of speaking or oral delivery. Elocution is particularly used in reference to an orator’s manner of speech when speaking or reading aloud in public. Elocution can also refer to the study of proper public speaking, with particular attention paid to pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone.
There is more to elocution, however, than a tidy definition. During the 1700s, elocution was considered an art form, and a formal discipline. In this capacity, elocution has common ties with pronuntiatio, the art of public speaking, which was one of the five integral disciplines in Western classical rhetoric. In following the syllabus of this art form, academic orators would have studied diction, dress, stance, and the appropriate use of gestures. It seems that in the study of speech delivery, the communications of the unspoken word were equally important to those of the spoken word.
Like any bonafide subject of course material, elocution encompasses a number of important principles. These are commonly considered to be articulation, inflection, accent, voice, and gesture. Articulation refers to the speech sounds and their proper pronunciation. Inflection refers to the pitch or tone of the orator’s voice, and the modulation of these. Accent refers to the emphasis placed on a particular syllable, word, or phrase, in comparison to the lack of emphasis on other surrounding syllables or parts of the sentence. In terms of elocution, accent does not indicate any written marking or regional pronunciation of a particular language. Voice refers particularly to the quality, clarity and effectiveness of that which is being spoken or expressed. Gesture, of course, refers to any movement of the body that accompanies a spoken word, particularly a movement designed to emphasize or aid in the communication of the spoken word.
An example can be used to clarify the ideas of elocution and pronuntiatio as they might have been studied and understood during the 16th century. Let’s say that an orator approaches a podium in shabby clothing, stands slouching and perfectly still throughout his speech, yet delivers the speech with the correct intonation and volume, using effective wording and a rich tone of voice. In critique, we could say that the orator had exhibited proper elocution, since the sound of his speech was acceptable. Yet the orator would not have exhibited proper pronuntiatio, since he was visually boring and nondescript.