Phoney Phonetics

March 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

Phoney Phonetics

On December 4th, NVRC hosted Hilary Franklin for an Introduction to Cued Speech Workshop.  Since NVRC started providing Cued Speech Transliterators this past summer, I was curious as to the history of Cued Speech, who are its users and how common is Cued Speech.  So out of purely selfish reasons, I contacted Hiliary to come and talk about Cued Speech.  WOW – it has a fantastic history, interesting usage and its gaining popularity among the educators of deaf and hard of hearing children.  We learned about the 8 hand shapes and the 4 placement areas (I can now cue the phrase, “oy vey” with confidence!).But the most interesting take-away, for me, was Cued Speech’s strong phonetic dependency.  I knew it was phonetics based, but didn’t realize that the same word could be cued different ways depending on the speaker’s accent.  For example, the word CAR would contain the cues for the hard consonant “K”, the vowel placement of “ah” and the consonant “err” – except if you were cueing for someone from Boston who doesn’t pronounce their “r” – then you would just have the “K” and “ah”.  Obviously as a hearing kid growing up in Texas, I associated our mispronunciations to the written word with regularity (i.e.  “dancin’ was really spelled dancing).  Now, I can see how deaf and hard of hearing kids who use Cued Speech, must match up how we pronounce words with the actual spelling.English is such a difficult language to learn with many “silent” letters, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and words that look the same but are pronounced differently.  Which leaves me with a poem that pretty much sums up my great workshop experience:
One reason why I cannot spell,
Although I learned the rules quite well
Is that some words like coup and through
Sound just like threw and flue and Who;
When oo is never spelled the same,
The deuce becomes a guessing game;
And then I ponder over though,
Is it spelled so, or throw, or beau,
And bough is never bow, it’s bow,
I mean the bow that sounds like plow,
And not the bow that sounds like row –
The row that is pronounced like roe.
I wonder, too, why rough and tough,
That sound the same as gruff and muff,
Are spelled like bough and though, for they
Are both pronounced a different way.
And why can’t I spell trough and cough
The same as I do scoff and golf?
Why isn’t drought spelled just like route,
or doubt or pout or sauerkraut?
When words all sound so much the same
To change the spelling seems a shame.
There is no sense – see sound like cents –
in making such a difference
Between the sight and sound of words;
Each spelling rule that undergirds
The way a word should look will fail
And often prove to no avail
Because exceptions will negate
The truth of what the rule may state;
So though I try, I still despair
And moan and mutter “It’s not fair
That I’m held up to ridicule
And made to look like such a fool
When it’s the spelling that’s at fault.
Let’s call this nonsense to a halt.”

Attributed to Vivian Buchan, NEA Journal 1966

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