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What it means to speak

April 16, 2013

Watching the above video, I couldn’t help but think about how many areas of this field were involved in Roger Ebert’s life. He lost his ability to speak after undergoing treatments for cancer in his thyroid, salivary glands, and jaw. He later had multiple, life threatening strokes in his carotid artery that prevented him from being able to speak or eat, and was put on a feeding tube. Ebert also faced a change in communication modalities, switching from relying on his own voice to relying on “Alex”, the computerized voice he adopted as an alternative and augmentative communication device.

In the video, Ebert eloquently explains how we use our respiratory system, larynx, and articulators (jaw, tongue, lips, palate) to create the speech we use everyday. He explains the frustration involved in using a computer as his voice, and how happy he was to get simple things such as intonation back with his discovery of the “Alex” voice.

More importantly though, he goes into detail about what it means to have your own voice, and how much of your self and your personality is tied to being able to speak and communicate using your own voice, with its own patterns and timings. He talks about the connections we form with other people through communicating with our own voices, and the disconnect he feels while using a computerized voice.

Using incredible technology, a company in Scotland, CereProc took samples from Ebert’s voice, which had been recorded on his show for the past 30 some years. Though not perfect, Ebert was given a chance to “speak” using his real voice again.

As you watch the video, and later talk to your friends and family about your day, think about how different your interactions might be if you had to communicate via somebody else’s voice. What would change? Would you still feel like the same person? Our voice, with its unique frequency, intonational contours, and sound is something we take for granted, until we are reminded about how important it is to us, and our sense of self!

–Adele Courchesne

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