by Fr. George Morelli
In 1965 Roger Brown made perhaps the most important discovery of modern linguistic theory. He reported that whenever we speak, the tone of voice and the manner in which words are spoken (technically called the pragmatics of communication or onomatopoeic analysis) do more to determine meaning of words than the definitions of the words themselves.
Brown concluded that if something is said in an angry or mean tone, the tone is communicated rather than the words. For example, if someone came into the room and the host said softly, "sit down," the words would be heard as an invitation. The guest would feel welcomed and perhaps appreciated and certainly open to listening to his host.
On the other hand, if the host barked out, "sit down!" in a harsh and inconsiderate manner, the guest would most likely respond emotionally, perhaps experience some hurt or confusion, and would likely infer the host was mean-spirited. The guest will close himself off to any forthcoming messages. Psychological research confirms this conclusion (Morelli, 2006).
How we preach the Gospel influences how it is heard
Brown's discovery has important implications including how we hear the Gospel. Take the title of the fiery sermon preached by the early American preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God for example. Consider too the tone of Edward's message illustrated in this brief quotation:
The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.