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Literature Discussion -


Discovering a Tone

By Khaled Alnobani


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A tone is a parameter connected to a communicated item; it is something shared between the subject of the speech and the audiences, but it is wholly made by the speaker. The knowledge of the tone is in itself a useful aim that should be resolved, but can we use the tone itself as a variable to gain more insights about a particular situation or circumstances.

 The tone has components and they are the attitudes (How much one likes or dislikes... ?) of the source (of the message) toward the subject and towards the target (audiences) and as it concerns attitudes, some people might want to hide them in certain ways founding themselves forced to give relative statements but surely not useful ones. The real tone might deviate from the apparent meaning of words. Attitudes toward the audiences (part of a tone) are how this deviation happens.

One can analyze with different tools the position of the speaker toward the subject, but how can one deal with negative attitudes (or even prevailed feelings) toward the audiences, and how they could be described?  I see that even objects (like buildings) have certain communicated tone. Very strong tone objects (e.g. weapons) must not change their intended use or even divert it. I think that one day a usual question will be asked, "What is the tone of this city? Or this place? Or what is the tone of the coming war?"  The answer is how consistent and loyal the object is toward its told themes.
Each item in a speech is related to a specific tone.  We Arabs, most of the time, do not refer to a subjective reason for judging the tone of a speaker. Most of the time we look to irrelevant information to draw a complete (out of our views) picture of a speech or a speaker. We do that most of the time without giving attention to what is spoken, because we are not believing the purpose of what is said as it is.  

In this article I am concerned with the tone held with a message. Every one having a message to communicate to others delivers it with a certain tone. Sometimes the tone itself is more important than the transferred message. A tone can lead to a street quarrel (or even a war if between countries) while being a liar can go unnoticed. I do not support the conventional way of finding a tone, that is "ask yourself how you feel because of the text?" Because it suggests that the target has a role in the tone while this is not supported by the definitions. 

Concerning politicians and concerning the private nature of Arabic language; we do not refer to what is said to decide a tone. We usually decide the tone and do not discover it. In Arabic the tone is not the apparent attitudes of the speaker. One must know the history of the attitudes of the speaker toward the item in concern to decide what the language really means and not only what the language is used for.

Our politicians tend to hide their real tone toward a subject as a result of fear of conflict with higher levels and to maintain all conduits alive. Public disputes with distinguished levels higher than the speaker are totally forbidden because they will result in a political expiry date for the concerned person. As having a third world culture and a very prosperous language, we know how toning is done and there are almost standard tones used by the governments and ordinary people. The speaker on behalf of a government begins to talk about the free services the government provides to the public and how the government cares about the welfare of the people. Then the speaker gives a list of these free services. Suddenly and after sometime a wave of fees and even new taxes are put on the listed benefits. For ordinary people there is a standard tone to ask more for the service [he] provide [provided]. He may talk about high prices and plenty of taxis and might talk about the education of his children. When this tone is heard the subject person responds with similar or even more complaints that made him an extremely poor person.

To discover the speaker’s tone, one must know the history of the attitude (or attitudes) of the speaker toward the item. If the speaker is making contradictions with his or her beliefs about the item, then the tone is completely ironic. He is pleasing someone by making a public joke.
 Imagine for example a person known for his negative attitudes toward a certain subject appearing on TV defending that concept. The first step to decide a tone of a speaker is to assume he is a pragmatic person. After that, put all arguments of the speech in terms of usefulness and not related to any metaphysical reasoning. Then judge if the new arguments comply with the history known for the source.

Pragmatism means (True if Useful) and it is specially subscribed for metaphysical reasoning. That means, if the complete argument is based on ethical premises, then something is hidden; it might be true but not useful. Begin tuning the tone to the predicted attitudes which depend on a solid ground and not on a fluidized bed of emotions. Fluidized beds of emotions are intended to attract the public and make popularity for the maker; it changes the tone of the public while the tone of the speaker remains unchanged. 

Philosophies deliver strategies (strategies produce tactics) and people who are lacking any philosophical knowledge are lacking individual strategies toward subjects and everything done, asked to be done, or someone else asked to do is primarily a tactic; something to save the moment and not the whole requested path.

To apply the previous method one should be honest with himself (to discover the honesty of the source) and not make any suppositions (like, the source is honest), if one began by supposing any pretender can have control of the situation.

Someone may say: "But is this the tone we know in literature?"

One must ask himself, is the subject a single item or group of items? Or does it need to make certain projections to reach the real discussion of the author?

Some authors determine the tone (of a novel for example) at the first few pages. In this article the tone is not merely the attitudes but the way the attitudes change through out the text; this may be difficult to apply for a single subject gender (it might be a new concept) but it is applicable on many other types of communications.

The previous discussion about tone complies with the definitions, but the tone in literature is the collection of the patterns the tone takes through out all items. Just as a song, each word is accompanied by a sound, the separated sounds do not make the tone, the tone is decided by the whole song. The speaker might be formal, informal, intimate, skeptic or optimistic. It could be said that the tone is the overall emotional spin generated by the source and gained by the receiver (audience). If the source and the target share the same positive characteristics, then the tone subject is totally understood and communicable between the two. Deviations generate deviations.

 What a tone could be used for?
The previous method can tell if the told subject is a lie or not. If the story told is used as a single-sided tool to make recursive benefits depending solely on its tone, then most probably a lie is hidden behind the tone. Like the stories told by some people about living or dead holy persons to collect more money.
 I can apply my method on another example: an event "a birthday party a head", and what has resulted from it; a tragic end caused by the birthday person.   If one side told the story, one single tone, recursive benefits, ability to make any story true and convincing; more likely it is a fiction.
Why do we believe a fiction? Why not persuade about the event itself?

Positive collective mind versus Negative collective mind.

The relative socio-values system is:

Value=Values (Self-Esteem, Knowledge, Talent) versus Value=Values (Power, Money)

This concerns the whole culture and its adopted philosophies.

The following phenomena is observed: "The efficiency of some peoples' committees (negative collective mind) decreases with increasing number of participants while for others (positive collective minds)  their efficiency increases with increasing numbers of participants."  For the first type, their policies decision will not be mature and they tend to have a skeptical tone about themselves rather than facing the second type about a possible lie. If the whole story was written, it would be ironic. As a mass the first type find themselves sinister; all descriptions suit them as victims, preys, fall guys, sufferers, black sheep and even patsies, but of what; of zombies; the modern pretenders.

For our country, Jordan, what can I come up with from this article?

Discovering a tone is not about the past but also about the future. I can predict the tone of the coming parliament elections, November 2010, as: "Reverse-Funeral tone with fixing parameters." I will be surprised if I found some of the local targeted audiences who can un-code this tone. What is disappointing is that whoever asks the poor people to stand suffering does not accept less than a new million in their pockets each day, while the sufferers wage wars to pay for the next meal. The official speech gets cleaner while the surrounding gets more corrupted. 

The concept of “Tone” is mentioned in the holy Qur'an Verse [30, Mohammad]; it is how intent, objectives, goals, targets and meaning are related with the used words. There is a powerful utility in Arabic language to discover all needed information about this particular concept; it is by analogy with another concept. It is a coincidence that the other concept has the same relation in Arabic as in English language. Which is the musical tone. It is apparent that there are two voices in music (Music, Singer) and two driving understandings (musical, words). By setting the appropriate analogy, one can reach all knowledge he seeks by just imagination. Here is one of the combinations:

Musical Tone

Literature Tone

Music voice


Singer voice










The tone of a text or any other concerned object is how these different levels are interrelated.

Notes :

  • The analogy concept in Arabic language is not an invention but never preceded.