Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reading Speech By The Eye


An Art In Which Surprising Advances Have Been Made.

In the paper "The Subtle Art of Speech Reading," by Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, in The Atlantic, she speaks of its essentially intellectual character:

If I needed a proof that speech reading is essentially an intellectual exercise, demanding good vernacular knowledge of language, I should find it in my experience with German. For six months I lived in a German boarding school, with only one friend with whom to talk English. Before the end of that time I could read German speech by eye nearly as readily as English, and it was but rarely that any one had to write off a German sentence for me. This was many years ago. Since then my opportunities for talking and listening to German have been very few. I find now, when I meet a German friend and try to carry on a conversation in German, I cannot do it readily at first. I can put together a few German phrases to express my own ideas, but I cannot decipher the movements of the speaker's lips. Why? Because the German vocabulary at my command is too small to allow me to select from it words that may be those that my friend is using. I find myself consciously and painfully running over my small stock of possible words, much as a miser counts his store of coin, and the chances are infinitely against my finding the right one. This would be disheartening if I had not found by experience that by reading German books for awhile, steeping my brain in German, as it were, so that I think in German and see in German, it becomes comparatively easy to catch the German words on my friend's lips.

Many people have the notion that, in order to be understood by a speech reader, they must speak more slowly and open their mouths more widely. Up to a certain point, and with some people, not all, I find it true that slower and more distinct articulation is an advantage, but beyond that point slowness of utterance is a distinct hindrance to comprehension, while the unnatural opening of the mouth is almost prohibitive of conversation. In the first case the speech reader's mind, accustomed to run rapidly, is apt to assume either that there must be more words in each slow movement of the mouth than appears and be thrown off the track, or, forced to linger over and study each word, forgets the previous ones, and, confused by a mass of details, fails to grasp the full meaning. In the second case the widely opened mouth, showing parts of words not usually perceived, so changes their accustomed appearance as to render them unintelligible.

There are no two faces in the world exactly alike, and every person has his own peculiar way of speaking. In some the peculiarity is greater than in others, and the difficulty of comprehension is so much increased that at first it may seem utterly impossible to make head or tail of what is said. I am, however, inclined to believe that there is no speech so indistinct that a good speech reader cannot master it after awhile.

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