Monday 15 September 2008

Some sciencey stuff

Here we are, another weekend over, another week beginning and a scan of the day’s news – overlooking the bankruptcy and financial despair – has revealed something very interesting a bunch of Canadian scientists have been working on.

They carried out an experiment to look at why deaf people are still able to speak coherently, sometimes years after losing their hearing!
Me! Me! Me! Me!

Except after rum… ho hum!

Anyway, they recruited five middle-aged, and now profoundly deaf, adults and got them to repeat specific sounds while their lower jaws were pulled forwards by a small device attached to their teeth – to distort their speech.

Upon reading this article this morning, my first thought was, ‘Where on earth did they find the volunteers for this in the first place?’ But, it seems they did and, if there was money involved and I lived in Canada, who knows, I may have been up for it, too. Although I’m not sure they’d class me as deaf enough as I am still able to hear my own voice – well either it’s that or I have another voice in my head!

Now, where was I? Ah yes… what the science peeps discovered was that even though the volunteers were unable to hear what they were saying, they learnt to fix the errors in their pronunciation as they ran through the words 300 times. In fact, they learned as fast as a group of normal hearing people who did the same experiment.

Apparently they could correct their speech thanks to the adaptive power of the nerves and soft tissues in their vocal tract – these remember how they should feel when a word is pronounced correctly. So basically we remember not only what a word sounds like but what it feels like, too.

I often get asked how my speech is so good when my hearing is so bad and it’s quite nice to have the scientific explanation for this now. I remember going to an audition once and singing higher than I could hear – even I was a bit taken aback by this but it’s true – you learn how something feels.

And this got me thinking about how I manage to play the flute and in many ways I guess, it too is based on remembering how something feels. I know the body tension required to get higher notes and visualise them in my head and hey presto they come out. This took quite a lot of practising however and although the hours were silent to me, they weren’t to everyone else – and now they’re probably wishing that I lived in Canada, too!

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