Sense Group

We speak to share information. When we speak, we want the listener to understand what we say. Often we speak without visual aid, in the form of a written script, for instance. Unless we speak clearly, the message cannot be shared with the listener fully.

The span of memory is also important. The speaker cannot be legible unless he or she speaks only a small group of words at a time. Longer stretches cannot be retained by memory.

Therefore, the speaker will facilitate the listener to share the message completely by giving him or her clues to brief units of meaning, each at a time, in order to reach the total meaning of the utterance without confusion. Each brief unit, discretely spoken, is called a sense group and the clue to understand it is the silence (or pause) that occurs before and after it. The meaning of an utterance will depend on how we identify sense groups with the pauses. For example, the meaning of the following utterance changes according to how we mark off sense groups with pauses:

The government of South Africa said the Zambian President has
grossly neglected the incidence of AIDS.

Note sense groups and note how they alter the meaning:

    1. The government of South Africa / said the Zambian President / has grossly neglected / the incidence of AIDS /
    2. The government of South Africa said / the Zambian President / has grossly neglected / the incidence of AIDS /

When the pause is used after the initial sense group,"The government of South Africa", the latter becomes the subject of the sentence, as in (a) above. If, however, the pause is after the sense group "The government of South Africa said" (as in (b)), "The Zambian President" becomes the subject instead. The answer to the question, "Who neglected the incidence of AIDS?" will, therefore, depend on determination of sense groups with appropriate pauses.

Division of sense groups depends on the identification of parts of sentences, which make convenient units of sense. The separation of units is according to some grammatical cues. In the following sentence:

Rosy said/that Vimala was stopped abruptly/ on the way to college /
and abducted / by a gang of youngsters in black masks /

the sense units are introduced by grammatical words such as relative pronoun, conjunction and preposition. Separating the particles from the clauses to which they belong will affect both meaning and fluency.

Speech must be clear: neither extempore speech nor long stretches of words spoken together shall contribute to the listener's confusion.

Utterances ought to be divided into sense groups.
Brief units of meaning shall each be spoken together.

Clues to demarcation of sense groups lie in very short internal pauses and a slightly longer terminal pause at the end of each utterance. Speaking as the utterance is marked will help acquire fluency.

If we pay attention to the way in which we speak in English, we might have noticed that we often exert ourselves by pushing out from the lung wall a series of puffs of air at regular intervals of time as in speaking a sentence like:

My 'father a' rrives to morrow.

This exertion or strain involved in making some syllables in words louder than others in speech is called stress. It is stress that lends English its characteristic rhythm. Fluency in English can be obtained by using rhythm via stress with ease.

It is essential to recognize the two degrees of stress often recognized in English speech, primary and secondary which fall on the loudest and the next loudest syllables in longer English words as in e,xami'nation, ci,vili'sation.

When some syllables are louder than others in a word, we cannot pronounce them as such if we do not weaken other syllables. In the word au'thoritative, if we have to pronounce -tho- louder than other syllables in the word, the vowels of the syllables must be weakened to /i/or/a/. Practice of pronouncing the weak vowels as weak, and not according to how they are spelt in letters, is indispensable for acquiring rhythmic fluency in speech.