November 19th marked the 154th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln delivering his Gettysburg Address, an event that, of course, was not recorded by any mechanical means. However, because of its brevity, powerful prosody, and stark imagery, it continues to live not just as a document but also as script for oral performance.
The flip side of listening to read is listening to learn how to speak, and listening to stellar deliveries of careful language choices to learn to speak well, compellingly, and clearly in terms of conceptual communication. Without practiced listening skills, speakers lag in oral communication skills, a situation that can lead to frustration, alienation, and exclusion from power.
While the writing of Presidential speeches has evolved over time to comport more popular styles of grammar, phrasing and word choices, how we experience them has also changed. We tend to read them in full and listen to only moments of the whole. Often that listening, truncated as it is, also comes via video and thus invites visual appraisal of postures, faces, and other details beyond the spoken words. Except for those who elect to join forensics teams or involve themselves in school drama departments, young students now rarely, and most never, have the opportunity to experience delivering speeches or master communication intended to be heard (beyond music).
After millennia of human ideas and ideals being shaped aloud, are we now in the Age of Unspeaking?