A few days ago, mariner visited his audiologist. In rural America, visiting the nearest audiologist means driving forty miles. Audiology along with dentistry, optometry and pharmacology are not covered under Medicare – but that’s another issue. The issue today is, upon whom does the fault lie when those who are hard of hearing ask someone to repeat something?
Interesting fact: mariner can listen to Jane Pauley on ‘Sunday Morning’ (CBS) without hearing aids! [Isn’t that trumpet introduction wonderful?!] Interesting fact: 99 percent of all other speaking people require mariner to wear hearing aids to understand them and with 60 percent of those folks, no hearing aid in the world would help.
Yet society promotes the judgment that the hearing disabled are dysfunctional, old, demented, crippled and generally useless. The hearing disabled cannot think, see, drive or order from a menu; socially, they are useless – a person can say something to them and all they can say is “What?”.
Mariner cannot deny the elements of aging, but the communication failure does not lie with the hard-of-hearing. Otherwise, how could mariner ever understand Jane Pauley without hearing aids? The issue at hand is not hearing but speaking.
One of mariner’s oldest examples:
Someone says “ōwee”. Even the hearing might ask, “What?”. The person repeats with mild disdain and says more specifically, “kōwee”. Being argumentative, mariner would ask again and ask that it be said more slowly. Obviously irritated and judgmental, the person says loudly, “SKOEET”. Given the typical brain pause of the hard-of-hearing, mariner deduces the English words: “Let’s go eat”. Skoeet means Let’s go eat!
Try again: “jeetjet?”. At this point, an endless list of lazy, unexhaled, tongue-in-place-of lips or teeth, whispering volume and disappearing predicate clauses can be had. Just a few:
Prolly, ancha, peshly, ombich, iite, and endless more slurring examples of two and especially three words compressed into one rolling noise. There are a few noticeable patterns:
When grinning, most consonants stay in the mouth and never make it to the teeth or lips. Lip reading is useless when people are grinning.
Very frequently people do not take a breath at the beginning of a sentence. This leads to very soft enunciation and the disappearance of audible volume altogether by the end of the sentence. Very soft voices do not even use the diaphragm. Mariner remembers a woman that was angry and started by shouting “I TOLD HER that I didn’t want this . . . inaudible.
We want to talk as quickly as we are thinking by using a rhythm to talk rather than using rules of enunciation. Unlike Jane, who gives each word and syllable its independent time and space, most of us use dominant vowels as a beat – the rest of the word be damned. Spaces between words are a waste of time and require added discipline. A different type of rhythm counterpoint to Jane’s speaking rhythm can be heard by listening to a field reporter recounting a news item; articulation may be passable but zero time between words would make any listener stop to separate the syllables.
To make matters quite a bit more difficult for the hard-of-hearing, people will turn away while speaking, or ramble on while they go into another room or talk while the television is on but the worst is when two people talk at the same time. This is more frequent than one would think – even normal hearing people have trouble in this situation.
So the point is the old one from the Bible: “Caste the mote from thine own mouth before judging others.” Mariner knows he has a disability but it does not deserve casdnashn.

Ancient Mariner

2 thoughts on “What?

  1. I feel your pain, brother. I go through the same litany of “what?” “what?” “what?” People nowadays do not enunciate clearly. This is especially true of younger folks. They should teach a course in speaking clearly. I wonder how many wars and fights have been started because someone didn’t speak clearly.

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