Thursday, October 12, 2017


During the third of the freshman NU sequence, which was devoted to speech therapy and audiology, we were asked to “be the audience” for an evening presented by stutterers.  Our task was simply to listen “through” the clutter, understand the real meaning, and not turn away or make faces. It was harder than we expected.

At another point we participated in a short session of speech therapy, where an intensely observant person sits face-to-face to see what you are doing with your speaking “tipofthetongue/thelips/theteeth”.  We learned about our soft palate, hard palate, alveolar ridges, glottis and how to make a “glottal shock”.  We also learned the sequence a child normally pursues when learning to make the sounds of English.  This was meant to help us speak clearly, a skill much neglected these days.

I lost almost all this learning when I was preaching.  I “pushed” to be loud instead of “projecting” my voice, so that the strain has made my throat raspy and weak.  This climate — extreme wind, cold, and dust — is hard on both speaking and hearing.  The fashion in presentation for young people these days is to be as impassive and immobile as possible, but to speak very quickly without moving lips, as though someone were trying to spy on what they say.  It works better on a microphone except that they practically kiss the apparatus which blurs sound.

All this is to say that I "know better" than what is happening in terms of my person-to-person oral communication, but instead of addressing the issue, I’m evading it with solitude and a refusal of Skype.

My former student, who has made a life of Native American education, took me to the Lighthouse for an elegant dinner (he claims it is a tradition) a few days ago.  He had brought along a friend from Portland, where he lives, who is on the board of the First Unitarian Church there.  Conversation was lively with my FS in control, occasionally announcing, “I’m going to change the subject now.”  I think he had a list and, specifically on it, some stories from the Sixties in Browning.  I could feel myself becoming more and more dramatic, making faces and voices -- but not waving my hands since we were eating.  Or not eating because of talking.  

My FS has toyed with writing, but is handicapped because he is not a reader.  He loves podcasts and is a regular listener of NPR podcasts.  I am disenchanted with NPR.  One can get plenty of audible material in other places.  But I digress.  The point is that I put on quite a show for FS’s friend.  He looked a bit stunned.  It was my old high school mode when I played the clown, the eccentric, the surprising.

Through my college career I played the cat, or if I really cared about a person, the devoted dog.  The idea was invisibility and came partly from helping my gay friends pass as straight, though we didn’t think of it very consciously — just did it.  I thought I was really a friend.  No idea what they thought, but there was that feeling of being safe if I were along.

The focused attention of a speech therapist is as close to an intimate one-on-one experience as one can enjoy short of sex.  With younger kids the therapist will often devise games to teach things like how to make a good hissy “s” instead of a slushy “sh” which means the tip of your tongue is not making a small and tight enough aperture for air to go through.  Much of speaking is managing air intake or propulsion back out.

I wonder what it means that so many people use CPAP machines, esp. at night, to push air into their lungs so they won’t go hypoxic in their sleep.  Drinking causes chemical hypoxia, since alcohol impairs the function of red blood cells that carry the oxygen through the body, so maybe high alcohol intake is related to needing forced air.  Not the dead-drunk falling-down kind of impairment, but the buzz-on preparation for sleep, which is what many nice hard-working people do here in Valier and a lot of other places.  Forced air going through the breathing system has got to at least dry out tissues.  Maybe numb them a bit.

The use of these head-of-body parts in sex, esp. kissing, was once such a prissy little postage stamp kind of thing — at least in the movies — and then it became a kind of flesh-gnawing extravaganza, but has now reverted back to “tipofthetongue/thelips/theteeth”, a kind of conversation.  Watching mouths is not so easy on home video as it was in the gigantic movie images of theatres, but is mostly focused on women.  I would not want to see Trump talking or whatever on a movie screen.  His exaggerated grimacing is obscene, lascivious, as though we were being slobbered on.

When a person learns a foreign language, it is often seen as a matter of learning new words, often in print rather than spoken.  Attention to the formation of the sounds at the level of a speech therapist’s standards is the real key to being understood by native speakers, quite apart from the metaphor reference cloud that comes with the words, and also apart from the “music” of the sentences, the little tune of varying up and down the sharps and flats of slightly different emphasis/emPHAsis/emphaSIS which is the key to many Asian languages.

Maybe it is the prevalence of world culture challenge in music that has helped to blur words, even destroy them, instead of the crooning lyrics of pop ballads or the words of opera which are in a foreign language anyway.

At the end of these posts, I often loop back to the beginning idea, which this time was discussing the value of three months of education about the mechanics of speaking and hearing, and how much I have abused it.  What should I do about it now?  I wonder what FS thinks about speech and hearing for rez kids.  ESL kids there are often accused of being "guttural" because Blackfeet sounds are in the back of the throat and they bring those sounds to English.

When I googled to find “alveolar ridge,” I discovered that this county has a speech/hearing clinic for kids.  Maybe I should be investigating them.  If I had to do a speaking tour or go on Skype for interviews, maybe I would.  But for now, I just stick to print.                                                                                                    

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