Homo Loquens

AutorFry, Dennis Butler
PealkiriHomo loquens : man as a talking animal / Dennis Fry
IlmunudCambridge [etc.] : Cambridge University Press, 1977
ViideFry, Dennis 1977. Homo Loquens: Man as a Talking Animal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

It will be abundantly clear to all those who are int he trade, who are of course equally intelligent but not laymen, that the information embodied in this book is culled from a thousand different sources and derived from a great many different people. The reason for not citing these in the text will be obvious enough: nothing is gained by loading the pages with a massog names which have no previous associations for the majority of readers and will probably have been forgotten by them as soon as they have turned the page. The omission of references certainly does not imply any lack of gratitude on the part of the present author towards all those whose work in the past as well as the present time provides the basis for what we know about speech and language. There is a Sechuana proverb which, translates as nearly as may be, sais 'A man is not a man save with the help of others' and this is true with respect to any man's professional life just as it is in his physical, personal and social life. (Fry 1977: I)
By far the best introduction/preface to a book I have met. At this point it would be appropriate to thank Ilse Lehiste, an emigrated Estonian, whose books have travelled to the University of Tartu library, bearing the remark of "Ilse Lehiste pärandist" ("From the inheritance of Ilse Lehiste"), along with this one.
As far as the sound of a message is concerned, the intonation is conveyed mainly by variations in pitch, quite literally the tune of a remark. Some of the tunes in the English intonation system can easily be exemplified by taking a single word and saying it in different ways. In the spoken language it often happens that just one word makes a complete sentence. Try saying aloud the word 'No', first of all as if replying to a question to which the answer is quite definitely 'No'; next say the word itself as a question, asking another person for confirmation that something really is not the case; then third, say the word 'No' again in answer to a question but implying 'not exactly' or 'but on the other hand'. You will have now produced three of the principal tunes that occur in the English intonation system, patterns that are readily recognized by English listeners as conveying the sense that has been just outlined. (Fry 1977: 16-17)
These are indeed easy examples.
The ears themselves, that is the part that is stuck on the outside of the head, no longer have a very important function in our present stage of evolution since we have lost the capacity for pricking up our ears. The external ear does do something, however, as we know when we get to the age for cupping the hand round the ear in order to increase its efficiency in locating a source for sound. (Fry 1977: 61)
Right away I tested this and it seems to hold true - cupping the hand around the ear increases the ability to identify the source of sound.
One interesting and important fact about auditory feedback concerns the nature of the pathways by which we hear our own speech. In these days of the ubiquitious tape-recorder there are a very large number of people who have heard the sound of their own voice coming from a recording machine; among them it is very doubtful if there is a single one who, upon having this experience for the first time, immediately recognized the voice as being his own. This means that the version we hear of our own speech is markedly different from what other people hear. Why is this? The whole of our sound-producing mechanism for speech is in our head and so too is the hearing mechanism. Practically all of what we hear of our own speech travels to our ears through the bones and tissues of our skull and very little of it actually returns from the surrounding air. This acoustic pathway through the head substantially modifies the sound-waves of our speech, materially altering the relative loudness of high and low frequencies, so that we receive an absolutely unique version of the sound, one that is higher and lighter in quality than the version heard by other people. We have as it were a completely private telephone line from out own speech mechanism to our brain; it brings us an impression of our speech which is shared by no one else in the world. In order that we should hear our speech as others hear it, it has to be picked up by a microphone and recorded. The discrepancy between the private and the public version of our speech is so great that not only do we not recognize the public one on first hearing, but no matter how many times we hear our voice recorded, we always retain some impression that it is only 'the one they say is me'. (Fry 1977: 94)
There lingers a shorter and more eloquent version of this in my memory, most likely from an older author, stating something along the lines that "our voice is given to us very differently than those of others". It should be noted that aside from visual and auditory varieties there is also kinaesthetic feedback.
In other experiments with split-brain patients information conveyed by touch has been transmitted to one half of the brain only. If a cut-out shape in wood or plastic, let us say a circle, a square or a triangle, is placed in the right hand of the patient without his being able to see the shape, the sense of touch will tell his left brain what the shape is and, because the left brain can speak, he will be able to answer correctly every time when asked which of the three shapes he has been given. The left hand, however, will send the information to the right brain; because the communication line is cut, the right hemisphere is unable to send the news across to the left brain which will answer randomly when asked which shape is held in the hand. This is exactly what happened when the experiment was tried with split-brain patients; the right hand gave a hundred per cent correct answers but the left hand produced answers which were about one-third circle, one-third square and one-third triangle, regardless of how often each shape was used. The later stages of experiment, however, gave rise to a most astonishing result, for it was found that eventually even with the left hand patients began to score quite a high proportion of correct answers and this was at first inexplicable. It was then noticed that when, say, a circle was placed in the left hand, the patient would begin to look around the room and pick out some circular object, perhaps a clock, and would then move his head in a circle. The left hemisphere, given the clue by the movement, would then give the right answer 'Circle' and it was by the use of this technique that patients succeeded in scoring a high number of correct responses. The right hemisphere, deprived of a direct line of communication with the left, evolved the device of going out into the external world and finding there some stimulus which could send the necessary information in to the left hemisphere. (Fry 1977: 130-131)
This is an astonishing example of a semiotic process. If need be for an example of discussion on the relationship of verbal and noncerbal (self-)communication, this will do perfectly, I believe.
Homo loquens has received the gift of speech which marks him off from all other creatures that we know about and is undoubtedly responsible for his development up to the point which he has now reached. But he has had to pay for this price which has become increasingly obvious in the modern world. Speech is the principal medium for indoctrination and conditioning, which take their most sinister forms in political ideologies and in brainwashing and are only slightly less harmful, if not so lethal, when they assume the universal power of advertising. We have bevome a trigger-happy society in which the trigger is not a tongue of metal or an electronic switch but a word. The pen is mightier than the sword but the slogan or political catch-phrase is mightier than either and their use has gone far towards sapping man's appetite for facts as distinct from opinions. (Fry 1977: 167)
Is the word to be blamed in dystopic fiction? In Nineteen Eighty Four, perhaps; in Fahrenheit 451 not so much. Or maybe there is a matter of degree. Winston lives in a society of doublespeak, Montag in one that has malnurished speak.


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